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Time-to-Value and the Value of Time

Time to value is a project and product management measure of the duration of projects.  It represents the time that it takes to deliver a product to its end users so they can make use of it and gain its value.  In typical PMI project management terminology, it is the time from initiation until benefits begin to be realized. 

Accelerating time-to-value for software applications is a principal motivator for approaches like Service Oriented Architecture and Agile development.  In new product development the faster the product is ready for sale, the better.  This has motivated strategies like concurrent and parallel engineering.   In construction, finishing the building enables rent collection and the joy of living in a new house.  This has motivated prefab building approaches and other time savings advancements.

As discussed in my June 2010 blog post, Rushing the Project to Disaster, on the negative side, accelerating time-to-value is a motivator for rushing projects to completion at the expense of quality and ignoring risks.

While some purists might argue that projects deliver products and programs deliver benefits, we will accept the fact that projects are performed to gain benefits.  Therefore, minimizing project duration while including all the features and functions required for productive use of the product and delivering them at a specified level of quality is an important objective. 

However, to optimally deliver value we must not only consider time to product delivery.  We must consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the product.  TCO is the cumulative cost of acquiring, maintaining and operating the product.  When we consider TCO we are faced with trade-offs.  For example if I deliver a product quickly but do so by eliminating some energy saving features or by not putting in some features that make maintenance easier, the overall value of the product is reduced. 

The value of time saved must be measured with TCO in mind so that decisions can be made that will have the optimal long term impact across product life.  In some instances this will mean increasing time-to-value and in other instances reducing it at the expense of the longer term benefits.  In the end it is a business decision.   The decision-makers (the sponsor and client) must be given the information they need to weigh short term gains against long term benefits.  They will decide on the feature set (scope) that will deliver the desired benefits.

It is the project manager’s job to then deliver a quality product within time and cost constraints.  To deliver in the shortest time possible means making strategic decisions at the project level.  Those decisions include whether to acquire an off-the-shelf solution, to take an agile approach, or to deliver in phases so that some value can be achieved as early phases are delivered.  Here is where the knowledge of the possible approaches is required.  If the PM doesn’t have that knowledge then he or she must bring in subject matter experts who do.  

When there are many projects seeking to deliver products quickly, it is the job of architects and process engineers to create the project environments that will allow for optimal performance at the project level.

To achieve optimal time-to-value it is necessary to consider trade-offs between the short term gains of early delivery and the long term benefits associated with features and functions that may make the delivery time longer.  It is also necessary for the project manager and the team to determine the most effective approach.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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