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Customer Leadership Series: Part 1: Getting Ahead of the Moving-Target (Problem)

This is the first article in a multipart series, I'm calling Customer Leadership. It's titled, Getting Ahead of the Moving Target Problem.

You work diligently to deliver on-time your best prototype or working model, only to discover your customer's needs or expectations have changed. Depending on the change, you'll have to make extensive modifications or sometimes, even start from scratch all over again, as the customer would want you to accept the change and redesign your product accordingly. This process of accepting change and making the necessary modifications is known as the “Moving Target Problem.”

Some examples of modifications that fall under this "Moving Target Problem" include:

· Design change requirements

· Functionality change requirements

· Product application or use

Many times, customers struggle to know what they exactly need, when they need it and how the new requirement ultimately affects their business. This uncertainty prevails because of a complex combination of internal organization factors and external environment.

As a supplier, this uncertainty is sure to impact you as well. The frustrations, cost and mental agony that you go through in such situations can be enormous. However, you overcome it all because you recognize that the real and only opportunity to develop into the role of a valued, important and necessary member of your customer's organization is usually limited and sometimes only comes around once. So the natural tendency is to “go with the flow” and absorb whatever changes are needed, and develop the new deliverable accordingly.

But is there a better way for each party to accomplish their own organization's end goals without bearing the strain and cost of the new requirements.

NASA's Model for Determining Product Design Trajectory

There are a number of proven techniques and well-defined processes for getting out in front of a moving target. NASA uses the Trajectory Design Model developed back in the early 60's.

"Ever try to shoot a slow-flying duck while standing rigidly on a fast rotating platform, and with a gun that uses bullets which curve 90° while in flight?" This question appeared in the July 1963 issue of Lab-Oratory, in an article about spacecraft trajectory design. Today, computer-generated plots and animations are used to calculate the path of spacecraft during a flyby.

The trajectory design model ( allowed Mariner mission planners during mission development in 1967 to illustrate the orientation of the planet and calculate the expected path of the Mariner 6 and 7 spacecraft, as well as the window of opportunity for the instruments and television cameras to operate during the flyby.

Though adapting to your customer's changes do not need such complicated calculations. it nevertheless requires the same type of thinking and approach.

Discussing internally and externally, questions such as:

“What is the current trajectory of the project?”

“What past trajectories has the project taken?”

“What were the factors that influenced any change in past trajectories?”

“What factors can influence the trajectory of the project?”

And finally,

“What can we control, influence or predict within any of the factors?”

If the answer to any of the above question is “I don't know,” it's time to schedule a meeting with your customer to determine the information that is needed to develop, and to successfully deliver your product or service. Determining with a great level of predictability the “trajectory” of your product or service, and communicating with your customer at each phase is the true essence of Trajectory Management that can be vital in your quest for customer leadership.

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