One could argue that time is our most valuable resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So those minutes that turn into days, days into weeks, and weeks into months on your new product development Gantt charts are priceless. Best practices in product development accomplish more in less time when taking products to market, but the road is often covered with seemingly small potholes that can delay even the best team’s path to success. So, to maximize efficiency during your next product development program, we recommend using nine actions to boost new product development.
9 Actions to Boost New Product Development
1. Get Yourself Organized
You know the instructions you receive from flight attendants before takeoff, specifically the one explaining what to do in case the aircraft’s cabin loses pressure, “… Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.” The same basic principle applies to be a better product development team member.
Get yourself organized first. Each of us can always improve our own organization methods, but we’re often so busy that we rarely take time to clean our desks or dig deep into our filing cabinets to remove clutter, for example. Is paperwork covering your desk? Is your inbox overflowing? Are you in back-to-back meetings all day? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you could benefit to take an upcoming afternoon to “declutter you” first.
Eliminating distractions will enable you to think more creatively and propel results for your program. One helpful book to get more organized is David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.
2. Use Simulations
Push out expensive investments in hard assets, prototypes, tooling and equipment, where possible. Implementing the use of simulations early in the new product development process answers critical design and engineering questions sooner, while avoiding manufacturing lead time.
“Using Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) to drive early design instead of checking an engineer’s design after the fact, has a big influence on the weight, performance and time to market of a product,” according to Tony Norton, Executive Vice President of the Americas for product software firm Altair Product Design. This approach also allows you and your team to make more informed equipment and tooling sourcing decisions, and to negotiate further, both of which can lead to substantial cost avoidances.
3. Run Parallel Workstreams
Stack multiple workstreams to compress your timeline by involving other functions early. As an example, have supply chain partner with design in the ideation stage to use the best available design sketches and engineering CADs to share and validate product ideas with suppliers. “Having supply chain provide early direction on part designs will control program risks and ultimately achieve cost, timing and performance targets,” says Norton.
Innovation shouldn’t have a surprise cost at the completion of a prototype, but instead a well-known and widely communicated cost dataset that the team is aware of throughout the process. The best product ideas that’ve successfully migrated through product development to production launches have been the result of highly coordinated teams working from a common commercial dataset of cost, timing, and risk data.
4. Agree on Required Data for Decisions
Analysis paralysis happens to the best of us, but there’s a way to abate it and prevent it from derailing your program. Compel the primary stakeholders, early on, to agree upon the required information to make a product design or feature decision. Determine if the design, engineering, supply chain, and manufacturing team leads each have to sign off on decisions or if only the program manager needs to.
There are many viable approaches to this communication strategy, but the key is to distill the decision process to the minimum amount of information, formatting, and people involved, and reach agreement on those details. This will conserve time from various groups needing more data to decide.
Innovation is uncharted territory. You and your team are doing things that you haven’t done before, so putting a fence around the decision criteria will hasten your efforts. “If a product is truly going to be innovative, basing decisions on last year’s program is not effective,” notes Norton.
5. Involve Suppliers on Day One
“Effective integration of suppliers into new product development can yield such benefits as reduced cost, improved quality of purchased parts, reduced product development time, and improved access to and application of technology,” stated professors Gary Ragatz, Robert Handfield, and Thomas Scannell in their survey of 60 companies and subsequent article in the Journal of Product Innovation Management titled Success Factors for Integrating Suppliers into New Product Development.
Though the tactic to include suppliers during product development is prevalent, our experience demonstrates that its practical execution leaves much to improve. Involving suppliers early in a program becomes more of a relationship art than a strategic sourcing exercise. Specifically, it’s necessary to clearly inform suppliers of the idea’s or product’s current stage throughout the new product development process because it will disarm suppliers, enabling them to provide the commercial information you seek.
6. Focus on People at Suppliers
Real people work at your suppliers and they prioritize the things that matter to them and their companies. People are more inclined to prioritize requests when they have a detailed picture of the status and next steps. Further, it’s important for the team to understand the right type and level of information needed at each stage in the product’s life cycle.
As an example, a product team doesn’t need a firm quote from a supplier on plastic injection molding the second time the program leads meet to discuss design concepts, but they could benefit from having a technical discussion with a supplier to understand the various types of plastic manufacturing processes available: e.g., the technical pros and cons, directional piece costs, tooling required, and timing tradeoffs.
7. Apply the Right Tool for the Right Job
There’s no shortage of project management or product development frameworks, processes, methods, templates, and technologies available to professionals today, many of which can save valuable time; however, it’s the proper paring of a business problem with the right tool that enables new product development timeline compression.
“Adding technology to the development process without considering how to fit it into the current product design process is one of the biggest reasons programs stall,” says Norton. Your program team should have considerable awareness of these new tools ahead of adoption.
8. Embrace Collaborative Software
As the amount of data we encounter and digest grows, the use of supply chain collaboration software becomes imperative to provide team members and suppliers with visibility into up-to-date program information. DOMO, a cloud solutions company, estimates in their annual Data Never Sleeps Study that 2.5 quintillion bytes are created every day, so it’s crucial for businesses to organize this data across the extended value stream, even down through supplier tiers, to make informed decisions.
Team collaboration platforms that remove even some inefficiencies in communication through real-time data sharing, speed up the information flow – a growing requirement across many sectors today. As Jeff Bezos puts it, “Business is having great products, doing great engineering, and providing tremendous service to customers… a cobweb of human relationships.”
9. Prioritize Customer Product Attributes
New product development methodologies – i.e., Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) – can help outline essential customer design requirements called Critical-to-Quality characteristics, like weight, speed, or noise, for example. “My overall advice is simple: Design characteristics like weight in early, don’t engineer mass out later,” says Norton. Many program delays can be traced to feature creep, adding or modifying parts, which require time. Do the hard work of customer discovery and research up front, decide on product requirements, and stick to them. This doesn’t mean you can’t add or subtract features, but the subsequent launch cost, time, and risk tradeoffs should always be considered.
Developing technology products that are true step changes in innovation require awareness of the past, but demand more real-time market data during new product development that‘s evolving rapidly in many industries. It’s with this pace in mind that we must reflect on our people, processes, and technology and ask ourselves, “Do we have the right tools to compete and beat our competition?” “Are we agile enough to outmaneuver our competition through the next major industry shift?”
As individuals, teams, and companies, we’re only as good as our last successful product launch. This pressure is all too real for us leaders who are committing millions in financial expenditures with the hope of capturing the next market win.
The new product development process is like competitive running: we constantly need to seek ways to gain an edge to improve our times. In the words of Thomas Edison, “There’s a way to do it better – find it.”