A leading global healthcare supplier recognized the need to reduce overload and increase throughput in the new product development process for its US Consumer Health Care organization. Project hit rates on milestones were running at 43%, and the company recognized several problematic patterns:

  • People were moving too fast on all projects – not just on the most strategic ones. Strategic work was moving too slowly as a result. Juggling too many projects resulted in extensive multi-tasking, high mental changeover costs, slower ramp up times, and relentlessly high workloads that led to burnout.
  • Chaos occurred as a result of projects continuously being reprioritized because expectations always exceeded capacity.
  • There was a tendency to skip over early tasks on a checklist under the assumption that these could be circumvented or easily addressed at a later time if necessary. Most importantly, in order to save time, developers were downplaying the likelihood and severity of risks at the beginning of the process – only to be surprised and unprepared later on when certain risks turned into full-fledged crises.
  • People who were expected to do more with less often asked for fewer resources than they actually needed. They also overestimated what others could actually deliver. As a result everyone was overloaded, and both higher management and stakeholders in related functions were not aware of the pervasiveness and seriousness of the problem.
  •  Managers often jumped in to help junior people on tactical work and conversely delegated strategic assignments such as process improvement to junior people who were not equipped to manage them. The reversal of roles frustrated both managers and those who worked for them.

Sponsored by its Chief Scientific Officer and led by its Director of Global Scientific Affairs Project Management, the company is in the process of making several key changes in how it prioritizes work and allocates limited resources:

  1. Existing workloads have been carefully calculated, and senior management has come to recognize that people were overloaded by 60%.
  2. The norm that “we have 6 top priorities – but everything must launch on time” is now questioned. “Wishful thinking” is being replaced by rigorous project assessment. Saying “no” to projects is becoming acceptable because more people understand the problems caused by failing to balance workload with capacity.
  3. Capacity modeling based on realistic resource estimates enables management to accurately balance expectations with capacity. All stakeholders (both internal and external) are asked to estimate their own resource requirements instead of to make assumptions about what others can do.
  4. Projects are prioritized in such a way that not all projects are put on the development list in the first place. Projects placed in a parking lot expose the gap between what people want to get done and what they can do, thereby signaling the level of additional resources required to bridge the gap.
  5. High priority projects are designed to be achieved as quickly as possible with more resources. Using capacity modeling to reduce cycle time concentrates fewer projects during any one period with the greatest intensity of focus that is reasonable. Although fewer projects are in the pipeline, throughput over longer durations is greater. This means in concept that, instead of trying to achieve 6 top priority projects in 12 months along with multiple other projects often supported by the same people, the company might now plan to achieve 3 top priority projects in 6 months and add more resources to its top projects – before targeting 3 more top priority projects over the next 6 months.
  6. New projects are no longer introduced until old ones are cycled out.
  7. All stakeholders across functions, including senior managers, are involved in understanding, supporting, and acting on the capacity modeling project. Moreover, the process is being rolled out gradually from the upstream function of Formulation to the downstream process of Analytics. The next phase focuses on optimizing the balance of resources between the two groups.

An initial result of its capacity modeling project reports an increase in project hit rates to greater than 80% on milestones while the number of milestones hit overall is also increasing (indicating more work is getting accomplished). Meetings have become more effective since agendas now focus on what is being accomplished instead of what is not being done due to insufficient resources. In addition, teams are being more effectively engaged in refining the product development process and optimizing capacity management.