Innovation managers, project leaders, and engineering directors are all charged with seeking alignment in an organization. But, what does “alignment” mean and how do you do it?
All successful companies have a strategy. The strategy comprises the mission, vision, and values of the firm. It describes the purpose for being in business, beyond making a profit and delves into how the organization can influence the world around it. A strategy describes what work will be done, how it will be done, and when it will be done.
Anyone working for a company in a role of new product development (NPD), in R&D, or in market research, must clearly understand the corporation’s overall strategic mission and act accordingly. This is the heart of “strategic alignment”.
Each project that is undertaken will have its own set of goals and objectives, yet these expected outcomes must align and support the overall mission of the firm. A project that adds language and accessibility features is supporting the company goals that seek to grow international sales. A new product project that uses less expensive raw materials is aligned with the firm’s operational objectives to minimize manufacturing costs.
Innovation, NPD, and R&D managers are most successful when they can translate the high-level organizational strategies into tactical and operational goals. These objectives then drive project selection and execution.
Certainly, it is the responsibility of project, engineering, and functional managers to execute projects with fiscal accountability. It is also a project manager’s objective to deliver the scope of work on-time. And while financial and equipment resources are important, long-term innovation success depends on the human resources dedicated to growing and improving.
People are generally split in action between taking creative risks and making predictable bets. Innovation requires a balance, too, and a trade-off among variables that lead to radical innovation and those that support the existing business. Managers and leaders must encourage new ideas, yet screen concepts for profitability.
Managing teams is a tough task because with micromanagement or in applying too much process structure, we can stymie the creation of new ideas. New ideas provide competitive advantage and build customer satisfaction. On the other hand, many managers believe that giving too much free rein to teams can lead to chaos in the endless churn of problem-identification and infinite brainstorming.
Thus, aligning resources requires balancing team member strengths with project objectives. Using the tools of the Virtual Team Model (VTM), for example, can help a leader identify which individuals are novices and which are experts. The leader can pair these people to create customer solutions that are both novel and practical. Meanwhile, the transfer of tacit organizational knowledge occurs flawlessly – and almost magically – as a mentor coaches a new team member.
Customer Satisfaction and Alignment
Our final topic in seeking alignment is built form customer satisfaction. In innovation, we seek customer alignment through design thinking. Design thinking is a collaborative approach to new product development that focuses on customer empathy to create the best solutions to a problem. Tools in design thinking include in-depth customer observation and experimenting with various possible solutions.
A lot of products fail in a marketplace because the customer is not involved in the process. Successful innovators align product development efforts with consumers and end-users. The process of immersing the innovation team in the customer’s situation allows deep insights that clarify the definition of the true problem. For example, by observing people change tapes or CDs frequently, Apple noted customers wanted to have more variety of music available on their portable devices. Then, through rapid experimentation, the found consumers were willing to trade-off sound quality for more selection. It is only through such close observation of users that customer alignment is achieved.
The Crucial Business of Alignment
Sometimes it is fun to be the dissenting voice at a party. And sometimes it is adventurous to take the less-travelled pathway. But, typically, being aligned with the group will reap the largest rewards.
Alignment in business leads to the greatest rewards, too. From an innovation perspective, strategic alignment leads to greater financial success since NPD programs take advantage of opportunities and strengths within the firm to outpace the competition. These results depend on resource alignment, so managers and leaders must create job opportunities that build on employees’ and team members’ skills. Successful innovation teams are diverse yet strive for a common goal.
Finally, the most successful innovators align NPD with customer wants and needs. Observation and rapid experimentation demonstrate customer collaboration in the design process yielding faster time-to-market and higher levels of consumer satisfaction.
There are two ways to learn more about aligning business goals with innovation. First, New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification addresses best practices in innovation from devising a business strategy to idea generation and to market research for product concept testing. Second, CIOs, NPD leaders, and R&D managers who are committed to taking their innovation program to the next level must participate in the Innovation Master Mind (IMM). IMM is a 6-month peer coaching group that allows you to extend your NPD knowledge beyond NPDP certification and to collaborate with other CIOs and innovation managers. You will realize improved efficiency and growth from our Life Design Master Mind (LDMM), IMM, or through NPDP certification which entails a deep dive into strategy and NPD processes, including design thinking. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
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