The Overloaded Pipeline

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Planview is out with their Fourth Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study and the results are more of the same. The top pain points identified by survey participants haven’t changed much since they first started this benchmarking study in 2009. The number one pain point every year has been, “too many projects for our resources.”

The overloaded innovation pipeline is an epidemic. It was bad before 2009, and has remained bad during the economic recovery. This year’s survey did log an improvement over 2012, but this is still the most often cited pain point both in the survey and in my experience working with clients.

Anecdotally, this is the result of headcount reductions without a commensurate reduction in the expectations of product development. The response to the identification of this problem is usually that we all need to buckle down and work a little harder to produce results. These are tough times after all.

I am all for setting stretch goals and I will even go along with a resource pool that is loaded at 120% for a period of time. We are not that great at estimating level of effort anyway, so a slightly overloaded pipeline might fall within the margin of error. But there are limits.

A chronically overloaded pipeline that has resources booked at 200 or 300% of capacity is dysfunctional. The fragmentation of attention units makes work less efficient. Different groups work on what they see as priorities only to find out that nothing is moving in lockstep toward launch. People are demotivated by the inability to focus on initiatives that they think are important.

When the pipeline is overloaded we get less, not more. The solution is simple. Clean out the low value projects from the pipeline until we get back into balance. There is no reason for this issue to remain at the top of the list.