Spoiler alert: there are many things to know about launching all-new products. But if I had to pick just one, it’d be communication.
Communication may seem underwhelming but stay with me. It gets a bad rap as it’s often overused in general MBA speak as the solution to bland high-level company problems; however, after years spent launching all-new engineered products on multiple continents, I can tell you it’s the most common referenced challenge among teams.
Dig deeper into the root cause of launch challenges and you’ll quickly realize that most delays boil down to “person X didn’t communicate Y to person Z.”
Communication isn’t glamorous, yes. Somehow though, we almost wish that the most common launch issue would be, well… More challenging. As it turns out though, improving communication for an all-new product launch, especially one with a large bill of materials, can prove more difficult than at first glance. It’s an admirable problem to solve that can have a big impact on your company’s bottom line success.
Leaders, regardless of function, need to play an active role in enhancing communication inside and outside their organizations if they strive to reduce the time it takes to take new products to market.
“Consistent-frequent communication throughout the product development cycle up through production reduces launch timelines,” says Sam Birchenough, Founder of Los Angeles, California-based BRCHN Design House.
Things change constantly during a new product launch. Thus, communicating the latest plan of record, along with the impact of changes, to team members is key to meeting your timeline.
Connect Systems for Real-Time Change Updates
The closer you can align your product lifecycle management (PLM) system with your early product commercial bill of materials, the faster you’ll be able to communicate changes. Leading companies are utilizing application programming interfaces (APIs) to automatically connect their PLM system with Plan for Every Part (PFEP) software to improve the communication of early product engineering changes. These electronic connections enable real-time updates of part revision levels to their supply chain teams to facilitate more agile supply chain management. The net impact is better communication, which results in compressed product launch timelines.
Even more good news, the communication challenge is one with multiple practical solutions. It simply takes hard work, consistency, and emotional intelligence to get it right.
Use One Platform for Extended Team Collaboration
There are additional technology tools that can enhance communication. Agile task management software is a great place to start. More and more teams are working virtually and are made up of a mix of company, supplier, and managed services providers. This increases the need for software platforms that can connect and share data amongst multiple parties.
Most small to midsize businesses (SMBs) do a great job with internal communication. Strong cultures and empowered teams at SMBs are a big part of this.
“Smaller companies are able to partner with innovative software and hardware companies to utilize cutting-edge technology that isn’t necessarily stable enough for the enterprise level, yet allows them to produce amazing results in a more streamlined process,” adds Birchenough.
All-new products require that team members take risks with new processes, technologies, and business models. A team member that feels comfortable sharing data with their team without reprisal will share more, which in turn allows other team members to make better and quicker decisions. The result is that your company will launch on budget and on time more often.
Survey Internal & External Stakeholders to Ensure Alignment
Internal and external surveys with customers and suppliers are a wonderful way to receive and provide feedback. They’re the best to provide a team feedback loop to facilitate repeatable success. Curate an atmosphere of two-way feedback to further enhance results. Electronic surveys like SurveyMonkey are a low-cost scalable way to ensure better alignment both inside and outside of your organization.
New product launches are challenging enough, so protect against self-inflicted wounds that are consequences of poor communication.
“Ensure there’s an efficient communication and feedback structure between your company – suppliers and service providers – be clear on process, timeline, and deliverables,” adds Birchenough.
When disconnects do arise, and they will, between buyers and suppliers or internal teams, address them immediately. As soon as an issue arises, direct, fact-based specific feedback and communication is always the best approach.
Practice Direct Communication of Expectations & Timing
Start with small daily actions that’ll make near immediate impacts toward improving your communication. In email communications, it’s ok to copy multiple team members, but if you want someone to do something, address it to them and make clear asks with specific timelines.
Lead by example. Self-deprecation by giving examples of your failures can nudge teams in the direction of more and better communication. Your goal as a leader should be to foster a safe environment for sharing. If you make a mistake, then mention it in your next team meeting. Explain what you learned from the experience and your next steps. You’d be amazed at the additional flow of information, both good and bad news, that ensues.
The Best Time to Improve Your Communication is Today
As your team works with different-sized organizations, geographies around the world, or cultural-functional backgrounds, stop and reflect on how they might view an issue. Try to view the problem through their vantage point.
We can always engineer weight out of a product or buy a component at a lower cost, but take the time to ask what your team member’s goals are? What do they need to be successful in a given program?
Having empathy is a skill we all need to get better at. Improve your personal, team, and company communication today to launch better products tomorrow.