How TKF R&D Department Increased Output by 200%
TKF is a Dutch company with 85 years of experience producing building, industrial, and telecommunications solutions for the construction industry. What sets TKF apart is its continuous investment in the quality of service. This approach has helped TKF grow from a cable manufacturer to a leading supplier of connectivity solutions. Extending the company’s already broad portfolio of cables, systems, and services, TKF’s R&D department runs a complex multi-project environment in Haaksbergen, the Netherlands.
R&D Department Challenges
Twelve years ago, TKF’s R&D Department found itself on the brink of multi- project chaos. In 2005, it counted eighteen full-time engineers who had to manage 75 active projects. The difference between capacity and workload was striking – it was beyond the means of eighteen people to lead 75 projects. The team lacked enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the task was to improve efficiency, speed, and delivery performance. Hans de Boer, R&D Director at TKF, expressed the need to transform his multi-project department into an efficient, output-driven organization.
The primary function of TKF’s R&D department was to develop new applications for power and fiberglass cables. But the number of existing projects was too high to determine the gating process for new projects or even to make a close projection. Project managers were only able to track records of lead times. After being managed ‘by decibels,’ with lots of conflicts, shifting priorities, and multitasking, the team eventually began to lose focus. The greater part of the management’s sufferings, however, were due to ineffective planning strategies and sub-optimal workloads. The department floated.
Jan Willem Tromp, Epicflow co-founder & researcher: “When I was invited to the R&D department of a cable manufacturing company the situation was as follows:
- There were 50 New Product Development projects and 22 engineers working on them.
- Every project had a schedule with 1 activity (work package) with several resources and estimated hours of the total work.
- They had a list of activities/deliveries per project in Excel.
- The estimated duration was between 12-18 months.
- Almost none of the projects was delivered on time and most times with cost overruns.
- About 25 new products were delivered per year.
The problem statement was
- long lead times,
- late delivery,
- cost overruns, and
- no project control.
We suggested the following plan:
- Putting Excel activities in MS Project.
- Making relations between the activities to create a network plan, add resources plus the estimated hours of work.
- And finally adding the delivery date of the project.
- Uploading all project plans in Epicflow and checking the load.
- Adapting demand from the projects to capacity.
- Epicflow automatically creates the task list based on a priority-based algorithm. Working according to the task list and having daily stand-up meetings to discuss everybody’s progress and current issues.
- Recording daily progress in Epicflow.
- Adapting the project plan if needed.“
First Attempt to Improve the Situation
To remedy their weaknesses, the R&D department opted for MS Project, expecting this tool to help them with planning. In 2009, the company managed to complete 29 projects, but as could be expected, most failed to meet their due dates even though the number of engineers grew to 22.
Management was able to release projects only with solid business cases, and only 50% of projects were released to market. The mission to realize project flow was targeted. Projects were executed in a structured way, but priorities still remained unclear. This was the turning point when managers realized that MS Project wasn’t enough to untangle their complex multi-project situations.
TKF Starts Using Epicflow
To strengthen their approach, TKF’s R&D department started looking for a tool that could integrate with MS Project and upgrade it for a multi-team environment. TFK’s management decided on Epicflow’s predecessor, Flow MPM, to achieve the following deliverables:
Epicflow’s concept brought about a real change in the company’s climate. It promised to help TKF’s R&D department meet the above-mentioned objectives. In 2012, the department saw visible changes, and Hans de Boer reported back with the results he had been looking for. Project output doubled in 18 months, while the average lead time decreased by 50%. Team members were no longer overloaded, as project managers were able to balance workloads with actual capacity.
Thanks to Epicflow, the R&D department was able to link all projects in one database and get a view of projects from the perspective of resources. One of Epicflow’s features, the Pipeline, helped by showing updates on each project’s status and signalling in red when an engineer was overloaded. The system generated daily updated priorities for all tasks, and engineers could also know the urgency of each task in the pipeline. As requested, project managers got real-time insights into resource capacity and could control project statuses and carry out clear management reviews.
Within two weeks we found out that the 22 resources were heavily overloaded (more than double their capacity). The R&D manager put 50% of the projects on hold to overcome the overload.
Positive results were increasing quickly.
- People finished their tasks within the estimation and the number of delivered projects increased to 48 in the first year and 76 in the second year to 98 in the third year with a reduced staff to 17 (was 22). There was no need to replace staff.
- Lead time reduced to 3-4 months (was 12-18).
- Big projects were reduced to smaller projects. On average, the increase in delivery is 200% in 3 years.
The following roadmap has helped TKF achieve success with Epicflow:
- Reducing the number of Milestones to a minimum.
- Starting a task and finishing it first (no disturbance) asap with good quality.
- Asking engineers to estimate the tasks and respect overruns to overcome Student Syndrome and Gold Plating.
- Offloading overloaded resources asap.
- Adapting KPI’s, i.e., get rid of KPI “deliver on time” to maximize the number of projects per period.
- Avoiding panic in case one project goes astray.
- Optimal granularity of tasks between 8 and 40 hours.
- A new COO re-introduced the KPI “Deliver on time”, within a few months the lead time became 6-8 months.