Monday, October 04, 2010

8 Habits of a Highly Successful New Product Organization

Our personal habits, both good and bad, often occur without thought, almost at the unconscious level. An organization also has both positive and negative habits, many of which are performed instinctively due to the routine nature of project activities. A highly efficient organization has done a good job of replacing any bad habits with good.

What you are about to read is an ideal view of a new product development organization, one that produces at a level that is easily envied by others. The fact that it's ideal should not immediately allow it to be dismissed as unattainable, although that is likely the initial instinct due to an anti-change predisposition. The attributes of a high efficiency organization described here is very much a possibility, but only where the knee jerk reaction to dismiss it is suppressed long enough to learn from these habits.

Highly successful NPD business have the capacity to learn from previous product development efforts and apply that learning, knowing that this is crucial for the organizations long-term health. As a learning organization they realize knowledge growth has not occurred simply because they held a lessons learned or post mortem session. They know the learning process is about proactively discovering barriers and then creating and tracking actions to remove those obstacles. If learning was successful they recognize that something must change.

The people doing the work on the frontline have much to offer in terms of execution efficiency and a successful new product development machine will leverage this fact; they promote continuous listening for core issues. People clearly know they have a voice and solutions will percolate up from the bottom, not be legislated from the top down. Listening is the culture, and everyone believes this.

Change is the mantra and perfection is the target. Lean concepts permeate the organization and everyone is energized to make product development efforts better today than they were yesterday. Ego related stances are non-existent; personally being right is far less important than doing the right thing for the business. Cross-functional collaboration is routinely practiced as the primary means of improving new product execution. Change is expected.

Objectives are clear and everyone knows exactly how they will contribute to the success of the product. A process is in place to manage all levels of requirements, minimizing any waiting for decisions and/or answers while supporting the essential agile component in meeting the customer changing needs. Specific requirements items are phased in a way that allows the team to move forward with what is known, while longer lead items have the appropriate focus to reach solid closure. A proper level of clarity within the development team is displayed through a lack of unnecessary rework.

People enjoy their jobs and have a passion for making things better. They have a mechanism in place that allows them the freedom to speak and be heard. Management views their inputs as an essential ingredient to producing a more efficient organization. Lean concepts are the lifeblood of the culture.

Decisions are well informed, quick, crisp and well communicated. No one is left wondering how to proceed. Where additional information is needed, actions are put into place to drive and track timely data gathering activities. Unsatisfactory decisions are viewed as learning opportunities and are analyzed for future improvements to the development process.

Planning is thorough, involving everyone who will be contributing to the project. Milestones are communicated to the degree that anyone randomly selected will be able to properly provide target dates when asked. Owners of tasks also have the information immediately available to them for completion timing and specific deliverable expectations. Projects are successfully meeting ALL milestones at a 90% level.

Product Launches
The product roadmap is an evolving plan based on current trends, customers, technology development and market intelligence. A product launch commitment is based on solid resource availability, solid revenue projections, sales force engagement, customer engagement and NPD team commitment. New products are meeting business case revenue and margin projections at the 90% level.

Development of these eight habits in your organization is well within reach, given a willingness to invest in change. However, do not be fooled into believing it's a part time effort. It is work, it will cost and the payoff will far exceed any expense when implemented properly. Go forth and change!

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