Culture is one of those words that we all know what it means, yet we struggle to identify and name it. Team and organizational cultures are best characterized from those within the group. They might describe the culture as open and risk-tolerant or as hierarchical and lacking trust.
New product development (NPD) is a systematic approach to convert nascent ideas into salable products and services. Not every idea makes it to the marketplace nor should they. We develop new products by taking advantage of new technologies and by combining concepts into new opportunities. NDP is a fun arena in which to work because product managers can apply business knowledge, technical skills, and market research to drive success.
A Typical Hybrid NPD Process
Most product development professionals are familiar with waterfall or staged-and-gated process. These approaches to NPD include upfront customer research and product design followed sequentially by prototype testing and manufacturing scale-up. Thus, the term “waterfall” as each phase flows to the next with appropriate management approvals and team hand-offs.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Agile processes that support project management of (primarily) software product development. Scrum is the most widely deployed Agile methodology and uses short periods of collaborative teamwork to accomplish small tasks. Flexibility is valued above planning, yet full Agile practices are difficult to successfully implement for NPD.
Hybrid NPD processes include WAGILE (read more here) and Lean NPD (read more here). These processes embrace the discipline of setting boundaries (e.g., gates or management reviews) while simultaneously supporting frequent experimentation and direct customer feedback. Integrating the structure of waterfall approaches with the desire for continuous learning of Agile systems, hybrid NPD offers key benefits to product development such as improved speed-to-market and increased customer satisfaction.
Teamwork in a Hybrid Environment
Product development teams have their own culture, just as any group has its own culture. For hybrid NPD processes, teams must actively collaborate to achieve a shared purpose. This starts with trust. In The Innovation ANSWER Book, we discuss the theory of intellectual trust and emotional trust. Taking the necessary, calculated risks for NPD success requires teams built on emotional trust. Let me give an illustration from the feline world.
Along with a number of our neighbors, we feed a handful of stray cats. We’ve named them based on their looks and coloring, so we have “Ginger” and “Gray”, for instance. Most of the strays give us only intellectual trust. They wander by each person’s door, checking to see if food has been set out. Yet, they are easily spooked if we walk too close to them or attempt to pet them. They intellectually trust us to deliver food but are unwilling to take further risks.
However, a couple of the strays have built adequate emotional trust with the humans. They meow at us and allow people to get close. One neighbor has invited one in to watch television with her, have a snack, and then be on his way. She has a cute collection of photos of the white cat. Another of the strays was sitting outside my door one day with a beat-up cat I’d never seen before. She trusted us to feed and help him back to good health.
Team Trust and Hybrid NPD
Do your NPD teams have a culture of trust? Are our teams willing to take risks or do they scatter like stray cats when the going gets tough?
Successful implementation of quicker and more effective hybrid NPD processes requires a high degree of emotional trust. Management must trust their teams (within well-defined boundaries) to execute the development work in the best way they know how. Team leaders must trust the process to balance risk of investment and speed. Individual contributors trust their own excellence and commitment to growing a culture of disciplined, yet flexible, product development tools.
Please contact me at [email protected] to learn more about hybrid NPD project team effectiveness.
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