Improving Time to Market
Consistent product development processes will help you control and predict your time to market
Time to market (TTM) — What it is and why you should care
While the definition of time to market (TTM) can vary depending on the company and product complexity, for the purpose of this article we are going to define time to market as the period of time from when a product idea has general agreement and resources are committed to the project, to when the final product is built and out the door to a customer. There are many complex steps in between where something can go awry and make accurately predicting your time to market seem impossible.
In today’s product development environment, products and the technologies they’re based on change rapidly, as do the number of competitors for market share. This means that time to market and finding ways of optimizing it are critical components that directly affect revenue. For example, if your product launch is delayed by 6 months, that’s 6 months for your competitor to grab market share, and less overall revenue for you to pursue when you finally do go to market. The better control you have over your product development processes, the better you’ll be able to control and predict your time to market and get new technology out while it’s still new.
Here are some additional reasons companies care about improving their time to market:
- Efficient resource management — Having a reliable timeline will allow you to prepare in advance for transportation times and costs, build schedules based on part lead times and headcount planning to satisfy the needs in various project phases.
- Predictable schedules and launch dates — The product development process is long and complicated. If you can accurately predict when your product will ship, you can take advantage of tradeshows, holiday buying seasons and other marketing opportunities.
- Increased total revenue — The earlier you get your product to market (without cutting corners or compromising quality) the greater the revenue you can generate because your product faces less competition. In addition, you earn revenue for more of the product lifecycle.
Revision control during product development improves your time to market
If you use paper, Excel or a shared drive to keep track of revisions, errors and confusion about where the most recent revision is located can be a common scenario that creates expensive problems. Are any of these familiar to you?
“Are you sure Bob put the latest revision up on the drive?”
“I saw your order for the prototype parts yesterday morning, but did you see the updates posted last night?”
“We emailed the new revision last week… Did you check your spam folder?”
“His desk is a mess! No wonder he didn’t see the file with all the changes!”
During the design phase mechanical, electrical and software engineers constantly share product information, but if there isn’t a controlled process behind this, things can easily go haywire. If a mechanical engineer makes a major design change and doesn’t save the new revision on the shared drive, the electrical engineer may design their printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) to fit into an obsolete mechanical chassis layout. If you rely on email to distribute new revisions, recipients can easily loose track or miss these emails in their cluttered inbox. Either way, if you design to the wrong revision, you’ve wasted hours or even days of work and pushed out the deadline for design completion. Issues like this may be small in and of themselves, but there’s never just one thing that goes wrong, so collectively they can add up and destroy your time to market target.
By the time you’re ready to start prototyping, you’ve already begun to source suppliers and to get quotes. While you’re gathering these quotes from vendors and suppliers your product is still changing, so the revisions you got quotes for last week may not be the ones you place orders for this week. When you go to place an order, if your supplier is working off the wrong revision because the email with the drawing of the new revision got eaten by a voracious spam filter, you’re facing some considerable risks. If the parts you ordered don’t fit together, you can’t build your prototype and ordering new parts means wasting a lot of time and money, especially if you have to pay expedite fees.
Having a strong revision control process helps manage your product development and reduces possibilities for mistakes that can blow your time to market target. If everyone follows the same process and designs are kept in a single, easy to access location everyone can get to the right information when they need it.
Controlled changes minimize time to market risk as your product transfers to manufacturing
As you transfer your product to manufacturing, chances are that changes are still happening. However, manufacturing needs to know which components are final and which are still being worked on so they can begin to order parts. For components with longer supplier lead times, you may decide to place a partial order so that build timelines won’t be compromised, but not place the full order and risk wasting lots of money on unusable parts. These critical purchasing decisions require manufacturing to have accurate information in hand, which will only happen with a solid change process in place.
Manufacturing also needs to make decisions about where to build the product. Final manufacturing is about building a quality product with a stable, repeatable process. If components and parts are in flux, you might decide to keep the product build under your internal control for easy monitoring. For example, if your product’s firmware is updated frequently, you might decide to launch the product with final programming and test in-house. Then once the firmware has stabilized, move that step of the manufacturing process out to a contract manufacturer (CM).
Having controlled change processes in place facilitates access to and communication of the latest product information, therefore manufacturing will have more reliable information to base decisions on. Quotes will be more accurate, supplier lead times better managed, and build timelines correctly projected. In addition, when you have a reliable history of product changes including what product information you’ve shared and with whom, it becomes much easier and less time consuming when you need to go back and debug a problem.
Shared information smoothes product launch planning and speeds your time to market
It would be nice to believe that once you have your working pilot product in hand that your worries are over. However in order to get your product off the factory floor and into customer’s hands there is a bit of ‘logistical spaghetti’ that needs to be sorted out. There are many choices that need to be made regarding packaging, transportation and shipping, warehousing, fulfillment and delivery, and marketing launch activities. What’s more, many of these decisions need to happen way before you transfer your product to manufacturing.
Let’s work backwards through a timeline of how to get a product from your manufacturer to a store to be ready to sell. If the product needs to be on store shelves and advertised in the circular by a certain date, it needs to arrive at the stores warehouse before that date. Prior to that, it needs to be shipped from your contract manufacturer to that warehouse via a route that goes through customs. Before you can start shipping you need to understand what transportation method you are going to use and how you can maximize the packaging of your box to ship most cost effectively. In addition you need to know how much product to ship to the store’s warehouse and if you’ll be capable of meeting that demand. The most important requirement for these logistical preparations is your ability to accurately predict when your product will be ready to manufacture in bulk.
Your ability to hit your time to market date, depends on having controlled product development processes in place that help you stay on track and minimize the chances that something significant throw off your schedule. For example, if your revision or change processes aren’t reliable, you could design parts that don’t fit together. Or when you share this product information with your vendors and CM it gets lost, misplaced or stuck in a spam folder, they could be ordering the wrong parts. Either way, these types of errors are expensive and can easily cost you months of delays. If the estimation for your time to market launch is wrong, you could end up missing promotional opportunities, paying for empty warehouse space and idle fulfillment staff, or losing difficult to get shelf space.
Improve your time to market with controlled product development processes
When you launch your product on time you can beat your competition to the market and have more time to collect product revenue. This requires controlled product development processes including revision control of components, change control on products and information that is shared early and often. When your product development process is controlled your time to market is more predictable and the team has the flexibility to handle the unexpected hiccups that will always happen.
Arena PLM keeps your product data in order
Arena PLM is cloud-based solution for bill of materials (BOM) and change management. Arena gives you a controlled, centralized way to manage your product data from anywhere in the world, and makes it easy to include strategic partners, suppliers and contract manufacturers in your product development process.
- Get your whole team on the same page with centralized product data
- Control product changes with solid process control
- Share the right BOM every time and end scrap and rework