3 Pitfalls for New Product Development Teams and How to Avoid Them

May 29, 2014 Shawn Dickerson

project management software

New product development teams are a bit of a square peg in a round hole. A very valuable peg, mind you, but a square one nonetheless.

Particularly in industries like manufacturing, the new product development (NPD) team stands out from the rest of the organization. While the manufacturing process and the technology used to support it are designed to deliver efficiency, scale, and predictability, the needs of NPD teams are quite different. These groups require agility, speed, and collaboration to be successful.

The net effect is that many NPD teams can't derive the value they need from the large, complex product lifecycle management (PLM) systems used to manage the rest of the production process. Instead, they default to spreadsheets or simple project management tools to organize and manage their work.

Unfortunately, those tools do little to provide visibility across the entire NPD lifecycle, which results in some serious day-to-day challenges. Specifically, NPD teams we've encountered typically struggle with:

1. Getting a complete picture of the NPD process when data is scattered across numerous disconnected tools.

Answering even the most basic questions like, "Are we on schedule?" can be nearly impossible if development data and project deliverables are tracked in random, difficult-to-access locations. One NPD team lead expressed it like this:

"I was asked a lot of business oriented questions from management above me. ‘How many projects are we running? Is it profitable?' I didn't know, because everything was on notepads, little five-line Microsoft Project files, and each individual laptop. I had no view into all the work that was being done." Of course, when project data isn't readily accessible, there's really only one alternative, which leads to the second common challenge...

2. Spending more time in status meetings and less time actually innovating.

It goes without saying that you want your new product development team spending as much time as possible actually developing. But without visibility into the NPD process, the rest of the business can't forecast and plan appropriately to the product release cycle--so often the only way to get that visibility is through mind-numbing status meetings, as was the case for this poor manager:

"Trying to track people down became more and more problematic, and we had so many different meetings to talk about a project. You had to dig through emails to find correspondence, and people were printing them out and putting them in folders, and you just didn't know what was going on or what was happening." Based on our conversations with hundreds of NPD teams, that cycle of meetings and manual updates is all too common. What's more, they tend to facilitate a very informal sharing of information, which doesn't leave much of an audit trail--and that sets the stage for the third challenge...

3. Not having the data you need to conduct a retrospective and improve the NPD process.

Innovation is an art form, for sure, but it's also a process - and that process needs to be continually refined if product quality and delivery timelines are to be continually improved. Without the visibility required to really assess the success and failure points of an NPD product, you end up scratching your head like this NPD team:

"We could never really nail down where things piled up. At the end of the year, when we were 40 percent on time, it was very hard to go back and remember exactly what the barriers were that caused us to be late." Now layer on top of those challenges the fact that NPD teams are often spread out across different locations and geographies - making collaboration clumsy and inconsistent - and you can start to wonder how most products ever make it market, let alone on time.

That climate has given rise to a growing interest in work management by enterprise NPD teams. Having a single point of task, request, and time management for all team members--from engineers to QA to project managers--gives the team itself and R&D leaders the visibility required to make informed decisions, address speedbumps before they become roadblocks, and manage to a timeline much more efficiently. Plus, easy-to-use collaboration tools replace a fistful of emails, IMs, and Post-Its.

For teams that have taken the plunge, they've come to understand that work management doesn't stifle the innovation process. To the contrary, it empowers innovation and product development by letting NPD teams spend less time on manual reporting and mundane process and more time doing what they do best.

And the results speak for themselves. With better work management in place, NPD teams have achieved results like these:

  • On-time product delivery increased by 80%, adding millions in sales revenue.
  • The best engineers gained 20 to 30 percent more time for innovating.
  • Project status meetings reduced from 3 per week to 1 per month.

Suddenly that square peg looks like a perfect fit.

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