So-called “Waterfall” or “Phase-Gate” product development methodologies often give management the illusion that they are under control of the project, while they are actually just meddling and slowing it down. Each formal gate meeting or project review is an opportunity for every manager to put the project team under scrutiny about what they have accomplished and whether they should continue with the next phase. I have been on both sides of the PC projector for many of these reviews, so I know what I am talking about.
When a gate checkpoint meeting or formal review is approaching, the project slows down. The project manager and key technical contributors view the meeting as an opportunity to show their value or possibly to slip up, which may affect not only their project, but quite possibly their personal ranking and stature. Therefore they spend a lot of time and emotional energy on perfecting slideware – deciding what to emphasize or perhaps what to obfuscate about the progress of the project. These meetings drive other suboptimal behavior as well; for example, in order to show a “quick win” at a review, the team may take on a quick, low-risk piece of the development instead of concentrating their talents on retiring the higher-risk elements as early as possible. These deferred high-risk elements can cause major project problems and delays later.
I have seen such a situation, when a newly-hired manufacturing expert applied lean principles directly according to the theoretical ideals, to a high-tech, high-mix, low-volume operation. The result was a near shut-down of the manufacturing operation for three months while “save-the-company” modifications to processes and tools were made. Thankfully, when the dust settled we had a balance of lean and other manufacturing philosophies that was more appropriate to the business. The same could happen to a product development processes if care is not taken. These roll-outs need to be done carefully, with skill, respecting the past, the company culture, the needs of the customers, and the market and industry, balancing various philosophies to create the best optimization for your business.