Listen to the Idea Incubator podcast. (Approximately 5 minutes long.) [audio:https://0a11b2.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Idea-Incubator-podcast-5-Apr-2012.mp3|titles=Idea Incubator podcast 5 Apr 2012]
- If it works today, it’ll work tomorrow.
- If it can be built, we can do it faster.
- If we grow the most, we win.
Action steps to bust these myths involve:
- Understanding your customer,
- Delivering exceptional technology, and
- Timing and strategic planning.
In the category of delivering excellent technology, project leaders need to be aware of proper project staffing. New Product Development projects can be very intense with tight deadlines for commercial launches involving interaction with a variety of stakeholders. Most NPD project team members should be assigned a maximum of two projects.
When I was the portfolio manager of a large petrochemical R&D team, I used to think I could assign four projects per engineer. After all, managers want to get the most out of their workers, right? My logic, at the time as an inexperienced manager, assumed that each engineer was working on one early stage NPD project, one technical service project, and two mid-stage new product development projects. Surely, that was a good balance of their time, right? Yet, I still wondered why it took three years to get fundamental lab chemistry tests completed and why the Gate 4 (commercial launch) kept slipping on a key project.
As they say, wisdom comes with experience. Now I can dissect the situation much better. Assigning a customer service project to R&D team members was a structural misalignment in the organization in the first instance. Customers deserve top-notch service and our products often required significant time spent at the customer’s facility to help set up and streamline processes. Senior executives and HR that lumped technical service with an R&D group had erred in the organizational design in the hopes of saving payroll costs.
However, not to pass the blame, in my youthful optimism, I had failed to recognize that technical service jobs were at least 50% of the team members’ time. Or I could have assigned a dedicated segment of the R&D staff to customer service jobs only.
Next, assuming that early stage R&D, or idea generation, was a minimal time investment was also an error. This was evidenced by the lack of completion of fundamental lab studies over a three-year period. Such tests should have been completed in a matter of weeks or months.
Ideation and the Fuzzy Front End (FFE) development take “time to think”. 3M and Google are great examples of companies giving “time to think” at 15-20% of an employee’s work week to follow projects of their choosing. Without dedicated time to FFE activities, the next generation idea falls off the priority list. Thus, my R&D staff felt pressure to serve customers in a technical service role and honestly believed they would get around to ideation sometime later.
Finally, on top of all this, each R&D staff member was assigned two development projects. While these were typically incremental improvements in a commodity market, there were still manufacturing tests, quality assurance tests, and product use tests to follow. Meetings for the cross-functional teams were one to two hours per week for each project, not to mention safety training and administrative work – all adding up to nearly 15 hours per week! This didn’t leave a whole lot of time for these poor staff members to actually work on their assigned four projects!
So, here’s the lesson. Do not over commit your R&D staff. Try to shoot for two projects per NPD team member. Allow “time to think” so ideas flow naturally, generating the next successful release of your products.
I’d love to hear your comments and stories on appropriate project staffing. Anyone who posts a comment will get a free copy of Three Innovation Myths!
Learn more about proper project staffing in an NPDP Best Practices workshop.
Image of sports figures courtesy of Softball Performance.
Image of customer survey courtesy of Nokia Innovations.
© 2012 Global NP Solutions, LLC
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