The global pandemic has forced companies to rethink how their products are developed — from design and manufacturing to supply-chain resiliency. Unlike business units that can smoothly transition to remote work, product development isn’t an individual activity. And because it’s a group effort, product teams must interact daily, working through ideas and collaborating on methods and materials.
If your product development or R&D team was allergic to complexity before COVID-19 hit, your company was well-positioned for survival. But if you’re among the countless companies that have delayed or cancelled product launches since 2020, now is the time to strategically simplify.
As a leader and author who’s helped thousands of organizations get simple (and stay that way), I recommend starting with a diagnostic that reveals how complicated R&D has become. Any size organization can use it, from start-ups to global corporations, but it should be completed by at least one person in a leadership role. From there, you and your teams will discuss the results and decide on solutions.
Start by answering the following seven statements with either “Consistently,” “Sometimes,” “Rarely” or “Never.” Answer individually and be truly candid in your assessments.
1. Our product development or R&D department’s takes a simple approach to daily work.
2. We keep the customer at the core of our product development process.
3. We review our new product or service development pipeline and eliminate projects that aren’t showing promise or don’t align with business goals.
4. I think the number of products and services we offer is manageable.
5. We review our existing product and service offerings and eliminate those that are not performing well.
6. We/our product dev team offers a clear way to give input on new products., services and features.
7. We/our product dev team clearly articulates how they prioritize/select the product, services and features to be developed.
To tally points, use this scorecard for each answer:
· “Consistently” = 0
· “Sometimes” = 1 point
· “Rarely” = 2 points
· “Never” = 3 points
If you calculated 1 – 7 points, your product development or R&D unit comes with a complicated angle or two. Overall, your org is high functioning, but at least one “Rarely” or “Never” answer is affecting aspects of your workflow. To simplify things, take a deeper look at the processes related to those answers.
If your sum is 8 – 14 points, your product development or R&D unit displays symptoms of complexity. It’s likely that bottlenecks are delaying progress in the pipeline, which hampers collaboration with engineers and tech specialists. If left unchecked, the red tape will suffocate your new products before they reach the market.
If you scored 15 – 21 points, complexity has hijacked your product development team or R&D unit. In addition to a portfolio of outdated or unpopular products, fear and lack of trust has created an excruciating level of bureaucracy that’s now spread across the org. Most of your company is operating under the influence of complexity, which fuels a cycle of bloat, mismanagement and frustration.
Finally, if you tallied a sum of 22 or more, your development operations are on the verge of dysfunctional. Very little R&D productivity is observable, and even when a design or prototype is finalized, it often falls short of its marketing, technical or financial objectives as a result of delays. From cost estimates to production specs and manufacturing, nothing happens swiftly or easily in this org.
After taking a deep breath (and 24 hours) to process the diagnosis, reveal it to your teams, along with the seven assessment statements. Now, ask them to generate theories on why complexity has overwhelmed R&D/your product development unit — along with their ideas for simplifying. Then schedule a remote meeting to discuss both reasons and solutions, which should be captured on a virtual whiteboard.
After discussing the viability of each solution, vote on which to implement immediately — and do it immediately. Examples of solutions might include “eliminate manual tasks” or “leverage big data in our analytics process” and “formalize strategic alliances with X and Y.” To encourage accountability, publicly assign tasks related to each solution to people or teams along with delivery dates.
While COVID-19 has disrupted the lives and work of everyone in the world, it’s also forced companies to reconfigure — and often transform — aspects of their manufacturing and supply chain. Use the revelations above to simplify your company’s path from concept to customer, reducing ugly side effects of complexity like postponed launches and budget overages. Simplifying your new-product pipeline and workflow not only boosts productivity, it can also improve collaboration, reduce turnover and increase employee happiness.