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The Value of a Day in Product Development

by Bella Englebach & Susan Wendel, Ph.D.
January 20, 2016

The Value of a Day in Product Development

by Bella Englebach & Susan Wendel, Ph.D.
January 20, 2016 | Comments (3)

Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.  –William Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet)

In the pharmaceutical industry, even though product development cycle times are measured in years, we know that a day’s delay in getting a product on the market means one more day for patients without a treatment or cure for their illness.

And for them, one more day might be one day too long.  

This drives our product development teams to want to move fast, make decisions quickly, minimize time in meetings, and maximize time in the lab and the clinic. 

So when we talk to a team leader or project manager about taking time in early development to define their knowledge gaps, assess them for risk and create plans based on the most critical knowledge gaps, the first question they usually have is “How long will that take?” 

The answer?  Most teams need at least a day to identify their knowledge gaps, discuss them, and determine which hold the highest risk.  For a team focused on the value of each day, this can seem like a huge investment in time.

“Go slow to go fast” is an oft-repeated maxim, often associated with lean, and counter-intuitive in a fast-paced business culture. What is the value of that day spent slowing down and really thinking about the problems the product development team needs to solve? We have observed that after assessing knowledge gaps in a facilitated team session, the team:

  • knows each other better, leading to a more open and collaborative team environment
  • has better shared understanding of the problems and issues faced by each department
  • can appreciate and visualize the knowledge gaps that impact multiple departments’ deliverables

But the real value of that day comes when it helps the team clearly understand what patients need, and gives the team a way to determine if the product they are working on can address that need.  Most of the potential products we investigate will fail.  Slowing down not only allows us to go fast, it allows us to fail fast.  By terminating projects early when they cannot meet the needs of patients, we can focus our efforts on those projects that can. Our analysis has shown that the investment of a day can drive reinvestment of millions of dollars into new, promising projects.  For those projects that can succeed, the investment of a day will ensure that project risks are identified and managed early.

What is the value of a day in your business?  Where might you need to go slower so you can go faster?

The views expressed in this posting are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Janssen Pharmaceuticals/Johnson & Johnson.

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Bella Englebach serves on the board of the Lean Product and Process Development Exchange (LPPDE), which is having its annual European conference this April in Reading, UK. For more information on LPPDE Europe 2016, visit the conference webpage.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
Suzanne van Egmond January 20, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Great article - and very true, too! For newcomers in lean it feels counter intuitive. However sayings like "We are in a hurry, so let's  stop and think" and "act like a turtle, move as fast as a hare" and related children's story already taught us!



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Dennis Glacken January 22, 2016

Great article.  Too may of us are reinforced for running around like crazy.  Often doing things that do not provide value for the patient, customer or shareholder.  Bella - I'm really glad to see you pursuing your passion.



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Tim Schipper January 26, 2016

Nicely stated.   You certainly hit an emotional chord with me.  I know someone personally who is currently waiting for a cancer drug that he desperately needs.   The cost of the days of waiting are hard to measure for him.    

Costs of delay in many organizations can be calculated based on the loss in future revenue.  However, in your world, those days spent up front in defining the problems and identifying the gaps for learning cycles become infinitely more important.  

Thanks for sharing Bella.   I really enjoyed reading your post.  It was inspiring.  



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