Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Product Execution - It's Just not Good Enough

New Product Execution is never quite good enough, although there is certainly a continual business emphasis demanding better. There may be small pockets where new products efforts scream success, although the overall effort frequently comes in with a "C" grade or worse. How's your organizations new product execution grade? No, you can't grade yourself; the only grade that matters is the one from the business GM or the customer.

There is a broad belief that if new product execution is failing it's because the development team does not have enough passion to get the job done. I strongly disagree with this narrow-minded perception. My long-term observation is that if execution is failing, it's because leadership has failed the team. Leaderships role is minimally to guide the team to a better tomorrow through the seeking and addressing of systemic issues that are routinely impacting execution. I firmly believe that a key role of leadership is the enablement of an environment that spawns continuous improvement.

The picture to the right is a list of common objectives and challenges that will pave a path to execution excellence, as each item is addressed. Click on it, print it and hang it on the wall as guide to attaining an "A" grade in new product execution. Utilize the concepts below to further hone a strategy for leaving average execution performance in the dust.

An Execution Strategy is Missing
News flash - new product execution is lacking a strategy simply because of a misplaced belief that there is one. That ghost strategy is actually a rigid tactical approach masquerading as an execution strategy. An authentic strategic approach will minimally include:

  • Regular questioning of why things are done as they are.
  • The regular application of learning from past products.
  • A participant scope that includes all functional areas.
  • Embraces dynamic planning.
  • A shared vision of what ideal execution looks like.
  • Cover all activities from concept through revenue.
If you are really looking for improvement, challenge the age-old tactical sequencing of who, what and when by routinely throwing a "why" in the mix of planning. This questioning nature could mark the beginning of a solid strategy for grade "A" execution.

Execution Scope is far too Narrow
At what point does new product execution begin? Most would be apt to identify the phase where significant design activity commences. I disagree; execution begins when that first twinkle of an idea begins to glow, where a product concept is born. A misguided assumption that execution begins with later activities allows the critical early tasks to flounder, avoiding the crisp management required to drive efficient closure. The "let's think about it" queue must be considered as execution, with all the sense of urgency and accountability that is expected for any project phase. The deliverables, time line and objectives must be managed from the very beginning.

Unacceptable New Product Success Ratio
How many products fail at meeting business case profit? Those losers will certainly eat up the ability to execute well on the successful products. Any product that is not a financial success must be scrutinized. The root cause for allowing such products to continue marching forward in the face of eventual failure must be well understood. There is gold in the analysis of failed products and significant mining will be required to gain access to it. Throw on your miner hat, turn the light on extra bright and go about finding the golden nuggets of information that will enable an improved strategy for approving and monitoring new products.

Failing to find what is Unknown
I have been talking about unknowns since the first day I opened the doors for business and it still baffles people when I talk about them. An unknown is a masked barrier to smooth, orderly and predictable execution in a new product effort. If you are not specifically looking for unknowns and removing them, your new product execution will have an element of time-wasting rework. If you want a higher level of predictability, go out and find what you don't know, and do it regularly. "Those that know, know they know. Those that don't know, don't know they don't know"