Time. It is the only resource for which there is no true price and the only resource that cannot be recovered. Once we spend a minute, an hour, or a day, it is gone. We cannot re-use the time or re-purpose it.
Yet, time is a resource that is often wasted. Personally, I can waste time by watching television or chasing rabbit trails on the Internet. On a recent evening, for instance, I watched a re-run of “I Dream of Jeannie” and then spent several minutes looking at the Wikipedia histories of Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden. While I might guess a trivia question correctly in the future, I probably did not use my time to my highest productive ability.
Innovation Project activities
Likewise, we do not always use our project time effectively when we develop new products. Innovation can present a lot of “rabbit trails” from both the technology and market perspectives. When a lab test looks interesting, organizations often devote all their resources (including time) to duplicating and validating the result. Similarly, when a focus group gives positive feedback on a feature, our innovation focus narrows, and we dedicate more time to understanding that particular customer need. In retrospect, these might be the right (or wrong) decisions. Only time will tell.
Dedicated innovation project resources are the hallmark of a successful new product development (NPD) strategy. However, a singular focus can lead us to miss alternate approaches or business models. Not only do we have to be aware of our natural biases as an organization, we also must be aware of competitor actions in the field.
One way to counter a narrow innovation focus is to conduct parallel product development activities. Especially in the early phases of NPD project work, innovation teams can – and should – investigate multiple ideas, concepts, and feature sets. Some key activities in early phase new product development are as follows.
- Concept Trials
- Customer Shadowing
- Needs Assessment
- Strategy Alignment
- Competitive analysis
- Prototype Testing
- Pilot Testing
- Quality validation
- Market Tests
- Performance Verification
At the highest level, scheduling of innovation activities occurs through roadmapping. A roadmap is a visual representation of key product development activities and milestones that guide the product innovation team to an expected outcome. For example, if we know we need to launch a new product at a specific trade show in December, then we can draw a roadmap of activities that will allow us to meet that deadline.
Backward Pass Scheduling
In formal project management “language,” the term backward pass scheduling is used to describe building a roadmap (or schedule) from the required end date to our current date. So, if we must have a new product ready in December, we will have to do prototype testing in September. To have a realistic prototype in September, we will need to have a feature list by July period to have a list of critical features in July, we need to conduct focus groups on different concepts by May. And that means we need to hold ideation and design thinking workshops in March. We plot our key innovation activities on the roadmap which gives us a rough schedule for the project.
Once we have generated a roadmap of activities for the new product project, we will undertake detailed scheduling. Software tools are invaluable for both roadmapping and detailed scheduling. All project development tasks are input along with the required resources (by name and position) and activity duration. Capacity management is key to success at this stage. Some tasks include dependencies with other tasks and resources cannot be used twice in the same period. A typical output of scheduling software is a Gantt chart, which we overlay on the roadmap.
Innovation Project Scheduling
In this post, we’ve only touched on a few of the important elements in creating an innovation project schedule. The figure below summarizes these steps. (Note that monitoring and controlling a project is a separate topic.)
While getting the details right is important, the most crucial element for successful innovation leaders is getting the process right. This includes understanding customer needs and required innovation activities. Join me on 22 and 23 April 2021 for the WAGILE Product Development workshop. In this interactive online class, you will tackle your biggest innovation scheduling challenges, streamline customer feedback processes, and improve speed-to-market. If you find you are launching ho-hum products too late in a crowded marketplace, you must learn WAGILE now! Register here.
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