NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

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…

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!

Lean Product Development – Entrepreneur System Designers

In larger companies, it is very common to find the new product development project managers who are very remote from the aspects of the process that generate real value.

Their goals are often to satisfy senior managers rather then customers, they are often focussed on administering the project rather then driving the design.  Assembling project plans, chasing work, nagging the engineers, tracking deliverables and reporting progress are the main parts of the role.  They are often bored and don’t inspire the development team and the net result is that progress is reduced to a crawl.

When looking at companies who have firmly instilled the concepts of Lean into their product development activities it is common to find the product development is driven by someone whose responsibility is defined more succinctly as being charged with developing a successful product.  The individual is expected to create and communicate a vision for the overall product and inspire a team of developers to strive to meet that vision.  There is a need for the individual to control the development process but the focus is on keeping things moving and eliminating waste.  Equally important is the need to make fast and correct decisions based on balancing risk, time, cost and technical achievement.

The individual possesses characteristics that are more in common with a director or vice-president in a start up company than a pen pushing project co-ordinator.

Measuring Innovation Capability – Innovation Leaders

In an earlier post I commented on how important it is to understand the knowledge, competencies, attitudes and behaviours of an innovation leader when assessing an organisation’s ability to innovate.

Knowledge of the organisation’s business is important.  Important factors include industry sector, product/market segmentation, trends, major customers, competitors, current product range, emerging technologies and external influences.

Specific skills and competencies associate with innovation management should also be assessed.  Important factors include creative thinking, analytical problem solving, project management and risk management.

A successful innovation leader should possess the right personal attributes.  They need to believe they can make a difference and get things done, they need be inquisitive – naturally seeking out both improvement opportunities and dramatic breakthroughs.

Finally the way they interact with others is important.  They need to display determination and committment, they need to visibly and actively support ideas and follow that through by engendering an environment that is both encouraging and challenging.

Such a personal assessment can be often more difficult than a mechanical assessment of the efficiency of a product development process but it’s important to identify and address any weaknesses in the innovation leadership alongside any process improvement activity.

Measuring Innovation Capability

Most assessments of an organisations ability to innovate concentrate on the processes and culture.  The presence of a clearly defined innovation strategy, a strong process to capture and prioritise ideas and an effective new product development process – all supported by an organisational culture that is blame-free and embraces the value of innovation – these are the factors that are placed under the magnifying glass.

Equally important but often given less attention is an understanding of the knowledge, competencies, attitudes and behaviours of the innovation leaders and the factors affecting strong innovation team performance.  These are often more personal and potentially painful to explore but should be ignored at your peril.