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The trick to a painless new product introduction process

shutterstock_1116997409Managing an NPI process can be fraught with difficulty as each new initiative brings with it the potential for failure and the risk of wasting valuable time and resource. This is not to mention the damage to a company’s overall profitability, reputation and employee morale when a product fails in development or is simply ‘dead on arrival’ to the market.

What is an NPI process?

The NPI process (New Product Introduction) is the structured series of procedures that a business works through to take a product from ideation to launch. Done right, it aims to ensure only feasible and profitable business ideas and designs make it through to development, and that the only products they deliver are those that meet the usability and quality expectations of the customer.

The exact phases of the NPI process can vary between companies, but they generally follow this outline:

  • Concept/ideation
  • Design Planning or Feasibility study
  • Design and development
  • Test and verification/validation
  • Launch/Manufacture
  • Mass Production
  • Improvement

An NPI process should be driven and managed by a cross-functional team who are involved in every aspect of a project. Each phase should be controlled by ‘approval gates’ which ensure a project has met specific and well-defined criteria before moving onto the next phase in the process. At the end of the process it is defined by efficient and seamless transfer of plans to manufacture, as well as the proper observation of post-release quality monitoring and continuous improvement activity.

NPI success is a key business driver

The stakes for growing companies in an innovation hungry marketplace are critically high. Mckinsey says that 25% of a company’s total revenue and profits should come from the launch of new products -  while also reminding us that the failure rate for new products still stands at 40%.  They point to more cross-industry research that concludes:

“companies that focus on creating new products and services while maintaining core competencies across functions grow faster than their peers. And as [they] look to future growth, the overwhelming majority expect it to come from creating new products, services, or business models."

Finding the best and most cost-effective way to ideate, develop, launch and manage a NPI process should be, therefore, one of the key objectives for businesses as they plan their future in a hyper-competitive world.

Success factors in NPI

Success in NPI is propelled by a delicate balance of factors in a business, including choices of technology used for development, and the working of the business culture as a whole. As the McKinsey research shows, excellence in collaboration, the ability to track progress and implement a strong launch strategy are all regarded as key to success within the high tech sector. 

Using the right digital tools can also be central to realising all of the above conditions in the most cost effective and flexible way possible.

Document Management Systems as a ‘single source of truth’

In recent years cloud-based Document Management Systems (DMS) have proved to be a key digital tool for businesses involved in high tech and highly regulated product development areas. Their growing role as a repository for the storage and dynamic management of documents is proving vital to more efficient and effective NPI processes.  For many businesses they operate as ‘a single source of truth’ where workers can collaborate on and collate documentation digitally, allowing everyone involved in a project to be ‘on the same page’ at the same time.

They can make NPI processes run more efficiently and effectively by facilitating the following business functions among a dispersed workforce.

Collaboration

The ability for teams to collaborate, is time and again mentioned as a central part of successful product innovation.  

The right digital tools should give the right people from your organisation access to issues and drafts of specs, designs, plans and other documents so that they can work from them, contribute to, and/or edit them no matter where they are located. Notifications and reminders should keep collaborative processes moving, ensuring nothing is missed and deadlines are met throughout a project.

The right DMS can also let 3rd Party contributors work directly on your documentation in highly flexible digital work-spaces, effectively letting them operate as an employee without ever having access to the rest of your system and, effectively, your IP.

Phase gating

Phase gating at key moments in a NPI process is a key way for businesses to monitor and track levels of completion against requirements, judge continued feasibility of a project and agree on next steps. And this, of course, is a central feature of a Prince2 Project Management approach.

The ability to automate and digitise the phase gating process through a single Document Management System can bring huge commercial efficiencies to a company and help to guard against vital things being missed, or mistakes creeping into its execution.  Document holders can help Project Management bring together all the documentation required for stakeholders to make the final STOP/GO decisions that keep NPIs on track, while preventing waste and project dead-ends.

But companies need a degree of flexibility around the way these are set up that not every digital tool can offer.  Choosing a lean DMS where non-coders can set up and change the workflows that define the various phases of a gated process, can give organisations extraordinary scope to optimise and evolve the way they work.  

With these tools NPI processes can be easily repeatable, but also simple to adjust and adapt to help a company become more efficient and effective in everything they do.

Publishing tools – product release packs

A DMS with the right publishing solution should help you operate a seamless and easily repeatable release to customer/supplier/manufacture process for each product. This could mean controlled sets of documents that make up a product release pack being automatically published to a gated Extranet or your own Internet site. The right solution will reduce the potential for errors by creating a separate digital environment where clearly labelled files, instructions, plans and specifications can be downloaded.

What’s right for you?

For SMEs finding the balance between digital tools that impose discipline and structure onto an NPI process while not strangling innovation at birth - can mean the difference between success and failure. 

Too much flexibility in the management of these phases mean functions can become sidetracked and siloed while systems and quality control can become adhoc, inconsistent and ineffective in their application. 

On the other hand, too little flexibility means systems and approaches can’t adapt and be optimised by companies who want to innovate and disrupt in their own way, while finding efficiencies and velocity in everything they do.

To be successful, the tools you choose to manage your NPI process need to bring distributed teams together for collaborative work, prevent slios appearing in a business and help you manage phase gating in a way that serve your customer and your commercial interests. 

In doing so, they need to adapt to your unique needs, imposing structures and ways of working that make sense for you.

Value of a DMS for product development

Tags: NPI