New products are the lifeblood of any organization. You can’t stand still, or you will quickly be overcome by the competition. Customers not only expect, but indeed they demand, that products and product lines are frequently refreshed and revitalized. Brands that fail to do so end up with financial issues and serious questions about their viability, like Sears and Payless Shoe Source.
How do successful companies maintain relevancy and prominence in a globally competitive and ever-changing marketplace? Designing new products that delight customers and generate long-term revenue is a surefire bet to success. Businesses also need to manage operations with processes like Six Sigma, yet continued growth and increased market share rely upon periodic new product launches to expand product lines and meet customer needs.
New product development (NPD) processes are significantly broader than those of Six Sigma or traditional project management. NPD starts with the organization’s mission and creatively builds customer demand through the product life cycle. Conventional NPD processes are called “waterfall” since the steps in the design and development of a new product fall in a given order and cascade from one to another. The most commonly instituted waterfall NPD process was developed by Bob Cooper and is a staged and gated system.
Traditional Staged and Gated NPD Process
In a classic staged and gated NPD process, work is done in stages and project decisions are made at gates. The system design is optimized for risk management in whicheach stage of work requires greater investment than the previous one. Gate decisions are made by cross-functional management teams of higher rank as the project moves forward.
There are many benefits to a traditional staged and gated NPD process. First, the system is designed to proactively manage financial and market risk. If the work in a particular stage does not provide the new product concept, then a “No” gate decision will halt further development. In this way, risk is minimized. Another strong benefit of a staged and gated NPD system is that the work required for each stage is clearly delineated, and NPD team members understand gate requirements in advance and in detail.
However, as implemented, many organizations fail to take advantage of the full capability of a staged and gated NPD system. Cooper intended for frequent customer interactions and that both customer needs and customer satisfaction would receive positive marks in order for a new product project o advance at a gate decision to the next stage. Instead, many firms fail to involve the customer once the initial project charter is drafted. Moreover, many gatekeepers err to measuring past progress rather than validating the effectiveness of future project plans. (See Gatekeeper Training to read more about this topic.)
To counteract the negative implementations of a traditional staged and gated NPC process, a Spiral NPD Process has been designed by Bob Cooper and associates as an update to the original water system. In a spiral process, increased iteration is introduced to each stage of work. These increments incorporate rapid testing and customer feedback, much like a sprint in an agile project management framework.
Spirals allow the work of a stage to be broken into smaller, more manageable chunks. These iterations also encourage NPD team members to test ideas, concepts, and prototypes with customers to gain their feedback. Steps within a stage cycle through Build-Test-Feedback-Revise functions in order to ensure the product under design will meet customer needs.
Other areas in which Spiral NPD adopts agile practices include the daily stand-up meeting and sprint retrospectives. The daily stand-up meeting encourages NPD team communication and collaboration via a quick. 15-minute meeting. Typically, the dedicated team members gather in their designated work area (often called a “war room”) to briefly outline their efforts and challenges. Each person addresses only three questions and detailed discussions are taken offline and with only the parties directly impacted by this issue.
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What do I plan to do today?
- Do I have any challenges to completing my work?
Benefits of Spiral NPD
Using a hybrid agile-staged and gated system for innovation, such as Spiral NPD, can accelerate product development. With its iterative customer feedback loops, Spiral NPD is more responsive to customer needs. In addition, Spiral NPD enhances the productivity of the NPD team and of the organization as people work on the right things at the right time. Feature, product, and business objectives are better prioritized since the voice of the customer is intimately woven throughout each new product development cycle.
Implementing Spiral NPD
In my observations, the biggest challenge for organizations transitioning from a traditional waterfall planning process to an adaptive innovation ecosystem, is a change in culture. Management no longer dictates top-down directives and project leaders no longer set out aggressive schedules and budgets. Instead, NPD team members are self-organizing and self-directing. The NPD team itself will decide how to work each iteration and stage in the product development life cycle. The sprint retrospective drives learning and behavior change immediately into the next Build-Test-Feedback-Revise cycle. Project managers also transition into servant leader roles, adopting transformative skills to drive change and flexibility focused on customer expectations.
To learn more about Spiral NPD, we are holding a special workshop on Agile NPD on 23 & 24 April 2019 in Houston, Texas, USA. Register here for the 2-day Agile NPD workshop and save on a full 3-day experience including a one-day pre-workshop course on Design Thinking. Use code “bundle” at checkout and save 15% on both courses. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717 for more information on innovation, project management, and leadership training or coaching. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their highest innovation goals!
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