Seagate Technology

Seagate Technology is a multibillion-dollar manufacturer of storage devices for PCs, networks, and other media requiring permanent, safe, accessible information. Headquartered in

California, the company's manufacturing and design facilities exist across the United States and around the world. The company began operations in 1979, primarily making disc drives. While the revenues today are still primarily from disc storage devices, the storage hosts have expanded from PCs to other devices such as video recorders, televisions, and games.

Seagate was one of the pioneers in implementing the Critical Chain methodology. Speed to market, with new technology, is very important in Seagate's strategy. Generally, the first supplier to deliver an innovative new product to a market enjoys the combination of high margins and high volume, until the competitors catch up. To meet the competitive challenges to Seagate's market leadership position, Brent King, executive director, Business Process Development, began to investigate Critical Chain in 1999.

Mr. King assists Seagate's chief technical officer in new product development in the Drive division (disc products). In this role, he helps to facilitate core teams, which take new product development into product launch after handoff from research and advanced concepts groups. In May of 1999, one of the core development teams, located in Minnesota, was given a challenge—read Dr. Goldratt's Critical Chain book and implement the concepts. One month later, this team accepted the challenge and began to build its network using Critical Chain.

By August 1999, the Critical Chain challenge was forwarded to senior product center management—"Don't think in terms of reducing cycle times from 15 months to 14.5 months. Think about how to cut cycles in half!" This challenge was accepted, and by September of 1999, the second Minnesota core team began its network build. By March 2000, core teams in Oklahoma City and Longmont, CO, were also live with Critical Chain networks.

At this time, the approach to product development was to use dedicated core teams. Therefore, it made sense to begin using Critical Chain in projects that were near the beginning of their development cycle. Since development cycles take from several months up to about a year to complete, the transition period for all projects within one location to be on the Critical Chain approach required about one year.

Within Seagate, program managers are the ones who determine the product development schedules. While there are relatively few program managers (typically one at each site), there are many resource managers. Approximately 200 of these resource managers have been receiving ongoing training in the Critical Chain approach.

Mr. King describes how one of the big changes with Critical Chain came from "Eliminating all buffers from individual tasks and consolidating these into one project buffer." This recognition of the advantage of project predictability is helping overcome resistance to change. In addition, the support of Seagate's chief technical officer and the use of Critical Chain reports by senior management speeds up acceptance. As Mr. King describes, every manager "Has legacy methods of managing projects and resources. We have not forced every manager to use Critical Chain, but the acceptance is increasing. The de facto standard is becoming Critical Chain with Concerto software."

While most core teams have some resources dedicated to the single project, resources still get multitasked. In Seagate's environment, some engineers have unique talents. Therefore, if an engineer with such unique talent finishes a task and moves on to another project, there is still a good chance that he could be called back to do maintenance work on prior tasks. This multitasking problem has not yet been completely resolved.

However, one of the major mechanisms for staggering projects according to a drum resource has remained stable and has worked very well. At Seagate, the drum is the group responsible for servo algorithm design. These algorithms are closely linked to drive rotational speed, mechanical reliability, and functionality. The servo group is therefore involved in product development at the up-front design stage, during the development and testing of the drive, and toward the end of the project at integration time.

Many problems in meeting overall specifications at integration time can be overcome by designing a work-around through a servo firmware modification. Therefore, it is very important for overall development cycle times to ensure that this resource can be very responsive throughout the project life cycle. The Critical Chain staggering approach helps to ensure this responsiveness. This means that new programs are scheduled according to the availability of this resource. As well, senior management reviews loading and progress weekly using the Critical Chain reports from Concerto software.

Seagate is continuing to improve processes using its own methodology called SLAM II (Sustained Leadership All Markets). This methodology looks at all program management activities, including market needs, product portfolio, quality, technology, and project management tools. In this respect, project management and Critical Chain together form one part of the total picture. SLAM is akin to the main gearbox, with Critical Chain being one gear.

In conclusion, Mr. King advises anyone who is new to Critical Chain and wanting to implement to "Be ready for the nuances of different cultures." He explains that people come to Seagate from different organizations and backgrounds. "It's much better to have one way to do engineering work [throughout the organization], not two or three. The reality is that Critical Chain needs the involvement and support of all management. Senior management endorsement is a really important thing." Two years after it began the Critical Chain journey, Seagate is continuing to spread the new culture of planning and managing projects to other internal suppliers and eventually to external suppliers, to complete the culture change.

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Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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