I am still super excited about the publication of PDMA Essentials Volume 3. My chapter on virtual teams (Chapter 6) describes a model of five elements and 16 practices. The virtual team model (VTM) helps new product development (NPD) teams improve communication and effectiveness when team members are geographically dispersed. You can learn more about the VTM here or by taking an online course that helps NPD project teams and leaders apply each element to their real-world situation.
It is also really exciting to read and learn from the other authors who contributed to PDMA Essentials 3. The book offers descriptions of common innovation constraints (like dispersed teams) and offers practical solutions to overcome these barriers to productive NPD deployment. Part 1 describes individual and consumer constraints in NPD. You can read a related blog post that shares information from Chapter 1 of PDMA Essentials 3 (Increasing Creativity by Creating Boundaries). Part 2 covers organizational constraints, like virtual teams, and Chapter 4 offers advice on using a think tank to overcome internal NPD barriers. Finally, Part 3 describes market constraints that inhibit acceptance of new products and services.
Organizational Constraints to Innovation
Innovators often face barriers to creativity and acceptance of failure within their organizations due to limited processes, structures, and resources. For example, an organizational constraint to innovation within an organization includes limited training and the lack of enabling processes for NPD. Successful firms and NPD project leaders embrace the inherently risky nature of innovation while simultaneously allowing teams to determine success criteria.
Symptoms of Innovation Barriers
in Chapter 4 of PDMA Essentials 3, the authors describe five symptoms of innovation constraints within organizations. These symptoms can be observed by project sponsors, executives, and even the team members themselves. As an innovation process improvement consultant, I have noted these observable behaviors at client companies that are struggling to convert ideas into successful commercial products. Symptoms of innovation constraints within or organization are (Chapter 2, PDMA Essentials 3, pg. 64):
- Lack of internal cooperation,
- Lack of external cooperation,
- Shortcomings in goal-setting,
- Lack of adequate infrastructure, and
- Restriction of innovation action.
In their research, the authors found that innovation constraint symptoms were driven by four primary causes. These include lack of skills or motivation, and operational or strategic limitations within the organization. As a solution, the authors describe a think tank to open the organization to creative problem-solving.
An innovation think tank involves several elements. First, a neutral, reserved space must be provided for the team members to practice their craft. The space should provide appropriate resources, such as literature references and materials for experimentation, as well as individual desks for “heads-down” quiet time. Often with today’s focus on collaboration, open office plans neglect the opportunity for quiet time that technical experts need to study and analyze complex problems. A think tank can provide both reserved and collaborative spaces for expert team members working on an innovation project.
Collaboration is a crucial element of success for any NPD endeavor. However, while open office spaces encourage trust-building and social interactions, a project focus can be lacking. The think tank model instead encourages facilitated networking to “foster communication and exchange” (Chapter 4, PDMA Essentials 3, pg. 72). Networking and collaboration in the think tank are focused on problem-solving more than just establishing new relationships.
In their extensive in practical research, the authors found that the think tank was a valuable tool for managing challenging innovation work, especially in the early stages of NPD projects.
An advisory board is a little different than a think tank. The think tank is focused on internal processes and expanding the idea set of staff solving specific innovation challenges. Advisory boards, on the other hand, look externally to identify customer needs and to seek collaboration for individual problems.
In a customer advisory board, a panel of lead users convene on a regular basis to offer feedback to a company regarding its products and services. The lead users and customers who either purchase large volumes or who use the products in unique ways. The key to a successful customer advisory board is trust among the users and the firm. NPD teams expect to gain insights on customer needs and to gain understanding of feature improvements through the dialogue of a customer advisory board.
Professional advisory boards convene to help individuals advance their own goals. There are a lot of examples of industry advisory boards and small business development advisory boards. An industry advisory board is typically composed of company executives who lead and manage firms that manufacture or service products within the given category. For example, a housing advisory board might meet regularly to discuss future needs based on the current labor market, and environmental issues. Companies participate in industry advisory boards to learn what the future might hold, and to share common industry concerns. Sometimes these industry advisory boards endorse or lobby for government regulations to benefit their industry.
Small business advisory boards are usually run by a trained facilitator who guides the members through the formation and growth steps for a business. The benefit of the facilitator of the facilitation is that the participants, who are newbies, can utilize the facilitator’s experience and guidance to frame their own decisions. Another advantage of the small business advisory board is that all of the members are facing similar challenges at the same time, so they can share and learn from one another. Knowing where to find an affordable web designer and which local financial institutions are friendly to small businesses is invaluable to these participants.
A master mind group is another category of think tanks or advisory boards and is founded for similar reasons: to share industry knowledge, to brainstorm solutions to specific challenges, and to grow a business. The key difference between a master mind group and a general advisory board is that each member of the master mind group is expected to actively participate in each session. Master mind group members will be in the so-called “hot seat” for about 10 to 15 minutes during each meeting to share their challenges, much like a customer advisory board. However, in the master mind group, the other members will immediately share ideas from their own experiences to address the issue, like is done in an industry or small business advisory board. Thus, master mind groups have the benefit of members both giving and receiving help to achieve goals.
Using a Think Tank or Advisory Board
Both think tanks and advisory boards offer a lot of advantages and benefits for innovation professionals. Increased collaboration is a key outcome of the shared knowledge and experiences that group members bring. Support and accountability to achieve goals is another important result. And, finally, enhanced customer interactions to understand needs and challenges drive success.
If you plan to implement a think tank or advisory board, be prepared to spend significant time planning the structure and necessary participation of group members. If not, a single failure can doom the effort for all time. You may want to hire a trained facilitator that can coach and support team members on their journey. Be you sure that everyone involved treats this space and time for innovation as sacred without disruption of day-to-day activities.
To learn more about a specific think take example, please read Chapter 4 of PDMA Essentials 3. There is a lot of information on the internet (of course) about industry advisory boards and small business development groups as well. And if you are interested in accelerating your innovation success please join our open master mind group utilizing Design Thinking tools to tackle life’s biggest challenges. You can learn more about the Life Design Master Mind in a free webinar held on 16 or 18 April 2019. Register here for the webinar and click here to learn more about the Life Design Master Mind group.
For other questions about building successful teams for product development, I can be reached at email@example.com or area code 281, 280-8717. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their highest innovation goals!
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