Capacity Utilization in Product Development: Be Careful

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a great article (may need subscription) about product innovation at Avery Dennison Corporation.  Seems that their throughput was slower than desired, because they were trying to do too much.  Upon the advice of their consultants, George Group, they reduced the number of projects they were attempting.  The company’s GM said, ""Instead of killing ourselves on too many projects, we think we’re able to move a smaller number through the system more rapidly."

One key suggestion was to build in some slack time.  That advice generalizes to your calendar, as well as to your engineers’ work loads.  Something is going to come up.  It always does.  So build in some slack time to accommodate it.  That gives you the flexibility not only to deal with problems, but also to seize opportunities that arise without warning.

However, I’m sympathetic to those of you who have trouble living up to this advice.  I’ve been there myself.  The great team productivity guru Larry Dennis once advised me to never let myself get so busy that I stop marketing.  I said, "Larry, am I supposed to turn down business so I can go prospecting for business?"  But this thinking leads to the boom bust cycle that so many of us would like to break free of.