How can a project fail? Indecision is one way.

A few year’s ago (in my former life) I was in my apartment in China, staying up late because of the time zone difference, waiting for a client on the US West coast to Skype me. We had put together a detailed plan to complete the final phases of our client’s project. There was some minor engineering still to be worked out that we had a plan for, there were product fabrication options to review, starting with some advanced prototypes that if approved would lead straight into low volume production as a bridge before we needed to ramp up to high volume production.  Our client had a great idea, the kind of idea that could revolutionize their industry, in a niche way, but in a way that offered a great payback timeline for our clients end customer. If the end customer were to invest in our client’s product then within 4 months it pays for itself. With strong IP behind the product all the cliches work, it was a no-brainer, a home run, a can’t miss.

But, there had been a bit of a problem to date, our client was slow to respond, to anything. Feedback that should have been coming in a day or two was taking a couple of weeks. Early prototypes that we had made worked great but still, this did not speed up their decision making. We had hit or beaten all of our deadlines, delivered on all tasks, come in on budget and our production pricing moving forward worked with their market needs. In the end, the project didn’t move forward, not because our work was not good, not because their design was not good, ultimately, the biggest reason the project failed and the product never went to market, was that our client didn’t make decisions fast enough, or at all. Sure there were other reasons why the project failed but at the core indecision or no decisions plagued this project. I learned several lessons from that project that I will share with you now:

Make more than 1 prototype at a time: Our client had 3 designs but they only wanted to pursue one design at a time. The lack of investment in early prototypes really slowed down the decision-making process and dragged out the project much longer than it needed to be. What I learned here is that the time spent going back and forth on what material to use or what surface finish or what the wall thickness should be, trying to make all the decisions on paper, just takes too long and costs too much. Make decisions with real physical prototypes, not sure on a material, try a couple of different materials right away. Not sure on the surface finish, try different finishes at the same time. Not sure on wall thickness, then start by making it thicker. The point is don’t wait, time is a project killer.

Your competitors are working on the same thing: What ultimately happened to our client is that a similar design, that did not infringe on our client’s IP, and answered the needs of the market (albeit in a slightly less exciting way), got to market faster. Our clients project dragged on for about 6 months more than needed because of the lack of decision making. This time lost helped to kill the project. What I learned here is that despite all the best patent research one can do, you may not always know exactly what is happening with your known or unknown competitors. So act urgently and make decisions fast to make sure you hit the market first.

Everyday you are not selling you are losing money: Product development is expensive and we have to be careful with budgets but we also have to be realistic about budgets. Everyday you are not selling your product you are paying for salaries, lights, travel, insurance and 100 other things that are not delivering you revenue. Our client ate up all their capital through an extended product development timeline, and then when they needed to act fast they had nothing left to act fast with. All the careful budget management and extended project review time that they thought was helping their project simply backfired.  What I learned here was that slow decisions or no decisions can kill projects and companies. Capital is hard to come by and should be refreshed by early sales revenue as soon as possible.

Price is important, but remember that time is money: For this project, we had delivered on all pricing goals originally specified. Could the pricing have been better? Yes, over time, but this client wanted everything now and had us exploring alternative manufacturing avenues and component suppliers that didn’t really make sense, to try to drive the cost down further, which was a big drag on project timing. The lesson I learned here was that I personally will always sacrifice a little bit of profit in the short term to get positive revenue flowing earlier, to help ensure lasting project success. If a pricing structure can deliver you some profit then go for it. Additional pricing efficiency can always be achieved later, what is most important is to get moving with a pricing structure that works, even if it is not creating the ultimate amount of profit possible right away.

Back to that Skype call I was waiting for, it was about an hour conversation about nothing, we went around in circles with no decisions made and we ended up in a holding pattern. There are lots of reasons why any given project can fail. In my experience, I have seen slow decision making, and no decision making hurt or kill many a project. If the option in front of you works, then make the decision to go for it. Don’t let indecision kill your project.

Gary Moran to start your project review today.


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