NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

Proselytising Lean Book – Missed Opportunity

I was asked to review a book on Lean – in particular the chapter on the authors’ ‘revolutionary design technique’.  The rest of the book focused on operational matters (including supply chain) and all looked very convincing to me, but I’m not an expert in Lean Manufacturing.

However I was disappointed in the focus of the chapter on product design.  Apart from a brief mention of using Stage Gate Methodology and an interesting section on concept generation and selection, the other 30 pages were exclusively focussed on ensuring that the production processes were taken into consideration during the design of the product.

I understand that the authors have a background in manufacturing improvement and would agree that Design For Lean is an important subject, but I feel there was a missed opportunity to include the exciting concept of taking the fundamental principles behind Lean Manufacturing and see how they can be applied to the very different world of product development.

Just click on Lean Product Development in the tag cloud on this page to see genuinely revolutionary ideas!

The Wisdom of Crowds Revisited

My earlier post on the collaborative approach to portfolio management from Inkling prompted me to pick up my copy of The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

It’s a fascinating read whereby Surowiecki proposes and illustrates that a co-ordinated ‘wise’ crowd will make better decisions or solve problems quicker than a leader or expert.

Of course the devil is in the detail of what constitutes a ‘wise’ crowd – the author states diversity (of opinion), independence (from influence) and decentralisation (of control) as the key factors.

The other important issue is the efficiency and accuracy of the mechanism of co-ordination.  Technology obviously provides better and better ways of achieving this.

It’s not a theory I would wholeheartedly endorse but it’s certainly worth bearing in mind when the considered ‘wisdom’ doesn’t appear to be working…

Media Centre Controller

I recently bought a small PC to hook up to the TV in my living room.  All my music collection and family photos have been transferred and being able to access all of these plus online content like Spotify, iPlayer and LoveFilm from the comfort of my armchair on a large ‘monitor’ is very enjoyable.

However, the user experience is let down somewhat by the options for the physical controller.  Inevitably something more than a pointer and some transport controls is required.  As far as I can see, text entry is an unavoidable requirement and balancing a wireless keyboard and mouse on your lap does nothing to enrich the user experience.  There are a few products emerging that are trying to address the need, but I’m wondering if something more revolutionary is required before the Media Centre (or indeed any internet enabled TV) becomes a more widely accepted product.

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A genuine opportunity for some innovative thinking to drive a product development that satisfies a real need?..

A Fresh Perspective on Portfolio Management from Inkling

Nathan Kontny from Inkling introduced a novel idea associated with Portfolio Management.

Portfolio Management ultimately depends on forecasts and predictions of development cost, sales volumes and revenue to provide a method of prioritising projects.  With a nod to James Surowiecki, Inkling have produced a tool that facilitates a more collaborative approach to refining those forecasts and predictions.  By answering some simple questions based on the original ‘guesses’, multiple users have an influence on adjusting the values for expected launch date, development cost, ROI etc.

An example portfolio has been set up (Inkling Portfolio Management Example) and you can try the system out with your on collection of projects (Inkling Portfolio Management Tool).

The idea is still at prototype stage and Nathan is looking at refining it – particularly the parameters that people will be asked to give their opinion on, but it looks very interesting even at this early stage…

The Innovation Strategy Landscape

In my previous post on Innovation Strategy I alluded to the importance of understanding the organisations attitude to risk and the types of innovation.  This diagram paints a picture of that innovation landscape.

Innovation Strategy Landscape

When setting out your innovation strategy it is important to consider the points on this landscape you want to include in the future business direction and the amount of resource you will dedicate to each of your chosen areas.  The green areas are relatively risk free and can be realised with your existing resources.  The orange areas require some development of capabilities.  The red areas are the most risky and venture into true diversification territory.

Innovation Strategy

Since ‘Innovation’ is seen as the engine for business growth, there is a multitude of concepts, thoughts and initiatives that companies are encouraged to explore in their quest to be more innovative.

The term ‘innovation strategy’ crops up frequently – I even find myself using it from time to time.  But what is meant by the term?

I see a strategy as something long term that lasts for a number of years.  Since the timescales involved with innovation driven activites (like new product development or radical process re-engineering) are often quite long, a stable unchanging target is required, one that is not overly dependent on the success of specific projects.   All too often I’m presented with an innovation strategy that is really a list of new products that the company wants to launch over the next 12 months.

So what kinds of stable goals should be included in your innovation strategy?  Companies like Hewlett Packard and GE have used a measure of the percentage of their sales that were from ‘new’ products.  Some focus on measures of new market penetration or improved processes.  Others review the performance of the idea generation and funnelling activities (though care must be taken to ensure some measure of quality of the ideas is included).

Obviously the innovation strategy needs to be closely aligned to overall business goals and must also consider the organisations attitude to risk to determine the ‘types’ of innovation that will be involved…

Top Down vs Bottom Up

When constructing a new product development project plan what is the best architecture to use?

Bottom Up entails breaking down the project activities, estimating the time required for each activity and rolling up the tasks to produce an overall schedule and milestones.

Top Down uses ’standards’ to set planned cycle times and define expectations of what needs to be accomplished in a given time.

Top Down is often proposed as the only solution to drive improvements in time to market.  To quote one source ‘Bottom up project planning is the wrong architecture for complex product development projects, because it tends to encourage the accumulation of conservative cycle times, resulting in longer time to market‘.  I’m not convinced by this argument, it smacks of mistrust between management and engineering and certainly doesn’t indicate the presence of common business goals across all functions and at all levels of the organisation.

If estimates of timescales are too conservative then surely it’s better to find better estimation methods to produce challenging targets that the whole team believe in?  Combining this with clearly communicated and compelling business reasons for pushing the engineers to find ways of compressing timescales creates a culture of trust and desire to get the job done.

The alternative approach of imposing artificially constructed deadlines based on previous projects doesn’t seem to be the best solution…

There’s only one way to find out… FIGHT!

An interesting post on the Behance 99% blog regarding the value of ‘fighting’ in deciding between opposing solutions to problems (Fight Your Way to Breakthroughs).

Although it’s written from the perspective of a more artistically creative team the key issues are equally applicable to new product development.

- Problems invariably involve consideration from people with different areas of expertise

- These people often have different ‘answers’

- The resulting conflict is either carefully avoided or a dominant force wins out

Their assertion that this does not always result in finding the best answer and carefully managed impassioned ‘fighting’ can help find a better solution is certainly worth consideration.

What gives this an interesting twist is that in my experience engineers possess more than their fair share of  reluctance to be confrontational, but there is a tipping point where the levels of passion for their line of thought become so large that their belief they are right is almost unshakeable.

Engendering conflict in these circumstances require some very careful management indeed!

Standing up for the Pointy Haired Boss (for once)

Of course, I’m a huge fan of Scott Adams.  Yes, I  nod knowingly at the hilarious observations of Dilbert’s working life.

But from time to time I think someone needs to stand up for the pointy haired boss…

progress report dilbert

If he thought for one moment that Wally would pro-actively volunteer information on technical issues that endanger the successful timely completion of the project he wouldn’t need to ask the question.

The desire of many engineers to exist in an undisturbed vacuum only surfacing to tell someone that they’ve just missed a deadline is not something to be lauded (or encouraged).

Where Do Ideas Come From? – Revisited

A few months ago I posted my thoughts on creating an innovation framework that supports the generation of ideas (Where Do Ideas Come From?)

In a similar vein I have to share this fantastic video from Cognitive Media to promote Steven Jonhnson’s latest book.