Improving the Product Development Process

Improving the Product Development Process

Improving the Product Development Process

The Product Development Process is one of the most important processes in any company. As a result, it should be as effective as possible. Because things in and around the process are always changing (e.g., new technologies such as IoT and Big Data, new organisational structures, new regulations, etc.), it's good to review the process regularly. And improve it if appropriate.
This post looks at five issues which may make it difficult to improve this process. And it offers one piece of advice.
1. The Product Development Process is the process that gets a new product to market. But that's about as far as agreement goes. I've worked as a consultant to many companies trying to improve this process. They've called it by a variety of names. Such as New Product Development (NPD), Product Development Process (PDP), Product Innovation, New Product Creation (NPC), New Product Commercialisation (NPC), New Product Introduction (NPI), Product Realisation. It may take a lot of time just to find an agreed name for the improved process.  
2. Many companies take a phase/gate approach to this process along the lines proposed by Robert Cooper in "Winning at New Products". However, personally, I've not seen two companies with identical phase/gate implementations. The number of phases may be different, their names may be different, and the number of gates may be different. Sometimes there are control points, sometimes not. It may take time to find the best number of phases, gates and control points for your company - and appropriate names and suitable gate criteria.  
3. The graphic below shows the NPD process on the PLM Grid. It's on the row titled Business Processes. (By the way,  Product Lifecycle Management is the business activity of managing, in the most effective way, a company's products all the way across their lifecycles; from the very first idea for a product all the way through until it is retired and disposed of.) 
If you want to change the product development process you'll probably have to consider the impact of your changes on the other elements on the Grid (e.g., data sets and documents in the process, applications used in the process, neighbouring processes, etc.). That can be time-consuming.
4. The process is cross-functional. It can involve Marketing, R&D, Design, Engineering, Manufacturing, Support, Recycling, Quality, Finance, Regulatory, Purchasing, etc. There can be quite a few people in the process improvement team. And, as they are from different functions, you'll need to find good ways to get them to work together, and to get them to understand that they can't independently take the final decisions.  
5. In some industry sectors, there are guidelines addressing the product development process. They can be helpful, but maybe there aren't any for your particular industry. But it's usually useful to look at publications such as ISO 9001:2015, ISO 13485:2012, and 21 CFR 820.30. Even though this will take time.  
After the five issues …. the advice is to map the current Product Development process so that everyone can see what's actually happening in it. Most people know what's happening in their part of the process, but not what happens elsewhere. But to achieve significant improvement, it's usually necessary to have a clear and agreed overview and description of the entire process. Maps like the one below help everyone to see and understand what's happening. They can show tasks, roles, information flows, applications, decision points, etc. 

Usually, when I suggest a company maps its current product development process, someone says "Why waste time looking at the current process? We want to know how to work better in the future, not show how we do things badly today". And then I give them some examples of the disastrous effects that can result from changing something you don't fully understand.  

The next post addressing business processes, planned for next Monday, will look at the Engineering Change Management process.

The Author: John Stark 
                                 John Stark

In the field of PLM, a thought and practice leader, educator, and consultant to more than 100 companies. Author of 18 books including "Product Lifecycle Management: 21st Century Paradigm for Product Realisation", the most frequently cited publication about PLM. PLM consultancy assignments in many countries and industry sectors. 
Providing PLM consultancy in: PLM Vision; PLM Strategy; PLM project management; PLM status review; PLM process architecture; process mapping/definition;  PLM application architecture; review of applications; application selection; Organisational Change Management.  Specialties: author of several PLM industry White Papers; frequent speaker/Chairman at PLM industry conferences and events.

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