The return map: tracking product teams.

C. H. House, R. L. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With a new product, time is now more valuable than money. The costs of conceiving and designing a product are less important to its ultimate success than timeliness to market. One of the most important ways to speed up product development is through interfunctional teamwork. The "Return Map," developed at Hewlett-Packard, provides a way for people from different functions to triangulate on the product development process as a whole. It graphically represents the contributions of all team members to the moment when a project breaks even. It forces the team to estimate and re-estimate the time it will take to perform critical tasks, so that products can get out fast. It subjects the team to the only discipline that works, namely, self-discipline. The map is, in effect, a graph representing time and money, where the time line is divided into three phases: investigation, development, and manufacturing and sales. Meanwhile, costs are plotted against time--as are revenues when they are realized after manufacturing release. Within these points of reference, four novel metrics emerge: Break-Even-Time, Time-to-Market, Break-Even-After-Release, and the Return Factor. All metrics are estimated at the beginning of a project to determine its feasibility, then they are tracked carefully while the project evolves to determine its success. Missed forecasts are inevitable, but managers who punish employees for missing their marks will only encourage them to estimate conservatively, thus building slack into a system meant to eliminate slack. Estimates are a team responsibility, and deviations provide valuable information that spurs continuous investigation and improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-100
Number of pages9
JournalHarvard Business Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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