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Good Questions at Northwestern Event on Exploratory PD

adaptable product development ExPDLast month we had a lively 2-hour discussion on Exploratory PD® (ExPD) at Northwestern University.  We had good representation from students, practitioners and academics from the engineering, design and business disciplines.   There were a number of excellent questions on how people are reacting to ExPD.

 Before I proceed, let me provide you with a quick overview of the differences between ExPD, an adaptive approach versus a structured (phased-and-gated) approach.

ExPD is an adaptive approach that explicitly identifies and drives down the risk that can result in failure. By organizing activities focused on resolving the most important risks, it readily adapts to the nuances of each project as it evolves over time, while eliminating unnecessary activities and paperwork. This translates into speed.

Phased-and-gated processes seek to control risk and ensure that the appropriate work gets done through a structured sequence of prescribed activities, deliverables, and decisions. The process also attempts to minimize risk through significant up-front planning by setting a clear scope, objectives, budget, and time line. Adaptation to project type is addressed by collapsing the number of gates and activities within the phases (e.g., full versus light).

Now for some of the questions we were asked:

“How easy is it for an organization that is steeped in the phased and gated process, to transition to a flexible process like ExPD?”

We recently conducted a pilot at a business unit of a very large conglomerate. The pilot included two projects.  This company is very steeped within the phased and gated process.    During the pilot the employees worked as a large cross-functional team to identify the biggest project uncertainties, and this process helped identify unique nuances within the project that wouldn’t be identified within a phased and gated process.  They immediately saw the benefits of the approach (see the case study).  I guess we were surprised that they liked it so much, especially since they were so entrenched in the phased and gated process. They are continuing to use ExPD today.

We recently conducted a pilot at a business unit of a very large conglomerate. The pilot included two projects.  This company is very steeped within the phased and gated process.    During the pilot the employees worked as a large cross-functional team to identify the biggest project uncertainties, and this process helped identify unique nuances within the project that wouldn’t be identified within a phased and gated process.  They immediately saw the benefits of the approach (see the case study).  I guess we were surprised that they liked it so much, especially since they were so entrenched in the phased and gated process. They are continuing to use ExPD today.  Lessons learned: When in doubt, pilot.

 “Will ExPD be successful in an organization with a risk-averse culture?”

We found this to be a curious question, especially since the premise of ExPD is to reducethe biggest project uncertainties/risks. But, ExPD is not for all organizations, especially when people feel that they need to follow a cookbook step-by-step approach that spells out all the process activities.

We are finding that companies that have employees with Level 2 or Level 3 competencies (Agile Manifesto) are more successful with ExPD. You need fairly sophisticated employees to implement this process.  Lessons learned: not all companies have the stomach for ExPD

“What are you finding the trends to be with overall adoption of ExPD?”

We are finding that ExPD is more accepted on the west coast versus other parts of the country. This can be due to the entrepreneurial culture of larger companies on the west coast, and the exposure these companies have to newer approaches like the lean start-up approaches that originated on the west coast. Lessons Learned:  The west coast continues early-adoption.

Want to learn more about ExPD? Download our Exploratory PD® whitepaper.

Strategy 2 Market helps companies increase growth and decrease complexity. Questions: Mary Drotar mdrotar@strategy2market.com

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