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Does Your Product Development Process Make you Anxious?

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Is your product development process keeping you up at night? Has it become heavy, taking too much time? Are you sacrificing speed and innovation because it is too hard to get through the process?

Current Problem

In today’s business world, we frequently see larger or established companies buying new or smaller companies (fast growing) in an effort to deliver new products more quickly. The argument often used is that fast growing companies are more innovative.

I don’t believe large companies are any less innovative than fast growing ones. However, I do believe that fast growing companies have much higher product development (PD) productivity.

That difference in productivity can be the result of large company PD process becoming “heavy”.

When the process becomes heavy, the procedures and documentation get in the way of developing new products. The process seems to become the product instead of the actual product you want to sell. Over time, the process can become heavy because 1) companies add more procedures as a response to previous problems or 2) product development becomes a convenient place to “add” new steps because all products will have to address the step as they go through development. As a result, large company PD teams spend significantly more resources (effort and time) moving through all the additional layers of process, reducing their productivity.

Improving Product Development Productivity

In order to improve productivity, you need to review your PD process, then remove or minimize requirements or behaviors that don’t add value to the final product. Below are some common sources of inefficiencies and ways to address them.

  1. Product development process is complicated: Use a cross-functional team to walk through all the steps of the current process and documentation. Some quick things to check: do you actually follow the written procedures or do you have many exceptions? How many procedures and layers of procedures cover your PD process?
  2. Multiple layers of approvals: Push approvals down to the lowest level possible, generally to the team. If you have multiple levels of approval, clarify the responsibilities of each approver. Multiple levels approving the same content is wasteful.
  3. Inconsistent documentation: Standardize documents and deliverables through templates to minimize confusion or incorrect information, streamline review the process, and reduce rework.
  4. Blaming the regulations: First understand what the regulations really require. Then modify your procedures to align with the requirements. Next, apply the level of rigor based on risk if something goes wrong. Risk may apply to the user, brand name, liability, regulatory, etc.
  5. Formal management updates: Eliminate big weekly or monthly management updates by the project teams. At particular points in the project, management and team agree on what each side contributes to the project (management provides resources and resolving roadblocks, the team provides certain product deliverables or progress). Presentations to management are held by exception, rather than a structured review schedule.
  6. Choke points: Identify parts of PD where things tend to get stopped. Common culprits include gate reviews, document approvals, quality reviews, etc. Modify how you work through these points. Three common ways to help resolve these points include staggering how the documents are delivered for approval, clear prioritization of the project, or adding more resources.

 

Closing Thoughts

Product development speed is necessary for all companies. The process you use shouldn’t get in the way of delivering innovative products. Fast growing companies usually have clear priorities and just enough process. Review your current systems and eliminate or minimize the things that don’t add value.

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