How do you help and organization create a new tablet in the market when their past effort was rated as unsuccessful?

Problem:  I’m under obligation to not name this company, but you know them well.  What if your organization is used to a 3 year timeline, but you only have 6 months to build the product?  What if you want the new table to operate on Windows 8, but Microsoft hasn’t delivered Windows 8 yet, and in fact continues to evolve (change) the operating system up until the last week of release, just to make things that much more challenging?  How do you pull off a project like that, with a work force that spans 4 continents and pick up 16 days to market in the process?  Of all the things to focus on, what will get you to the delivery date on time and with a product ready to ship?

Solution:  Given the complexity of the project, and the fact that it spanned multiple business groups, each with their own preferred technology, processes and politics,  finding an over-arching pivot point that we could leverage to deliver the outcome successfully was quite difficult.  There wasn’t time for a detailed review of past failures and course corrections, nor was there a strong indication that such a root caused based analysis or other broad based “execution emphasis” initiatives would generate the dramatic change in pace needed to reach the desired outcome.

In order to deliver a Windows 8 device to the market on time we decided to emphasis two leverage points and do them very well:

  1. Using our our derivative of the 80/20 theory (80/20 squared or 4% generates 2/3rds of results), we asked each business group to weekly identify what were the top 5 tasks due that week that were deemed to be most critical to their success.  We needed to rapidly raise focus, visibility and accountability on those “4% of tasks that were critical to our success.  We devised a system using ManagePro, whereby each business unit reported on those top issues weekly in a simple format that reinforced good critical thinking and clarity about next steps.  We then captured the results for each business team as a literal scorecard for their ability to weekly successfully complete what was critical.  We then added a bit of group psychology and published weekly a rank ordered dashboard to reinforce visibility and positive competition.  Success at getting what was critical completed went up more then 12% within 8 weeks and was sustained for the rest of the project.  It was like adding another individual for every 8 people on a team.
  2. Secondly we employed a “swarming” technique to immediately apply the best expertise to any impasse we encountered on the top 4%.  We had no buffer or cushion on the timeline, so we could not afford for any significant delays by any of the more than 14 teams working on the project around the world.  Consequently we treated any department’s delay as a potential threat to the overall project and responded rapidly to bring the best resources available together to quickly solve emerging problems.

Bottom line, we delivered the tablet on time, fully Windows 8 compatible, and validated in the process that it’s not enough to simply be innovative, you also need to excel at executing on what’s critical and do it in a “people-smart” way.