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Supporting product innovation with document control software

Product InnovationIn the history of product innovation, stories of happy accidents abound. The list of inventions  stumbled upon by creative minds include Teflon, Play-Doh and Viagra.  But what will it take to transform your creativity into a firm commercial opportunity?

How do you control your creative processes?

As Louis Pasteur once famously said “chance favours the prepared mind”.

High tech companies need to both facilitate and control restless creative impluses if they’re going to survive and thrive in a hyper competitive world.

They need to record their brilliant ideas and harnesss their creative direction within a digtial process that helps their teams:

  • Rapdily assess feasibilty of competing opportunities
  • Choose ideas with the most commercial potential
  • Repeat development success in cycles of continual improvement

We would argue it’s impossible do this unless you’ve got complete control over your documentation at every stage of your ideation process.  But how do you acheive this in the most flexible way posisble to keep the spark of invention alive?

5 ways document control software supports product innovation

1. How do you record your ideas?

In California the med tech firm Menlo Innovations works in unique ways to hatch and develop ground breaking ideas.  Their ‘High Tech Anthropology’ approach requires them to film and observe their health care customers in their ‘native habitats’ to generate ideas for product innovation and improvement. This multi-media approach to research and documentation is becoming more and more common as businesses find new ways to crystallise their insight into product ideas.

As you develop your ideas in your own unique way you should make sure you have the tools to:

  • Store different file types and research output within your system
  • Use metatext to tag creative materials for indexing and future discovery
  • Secure IP and store sensitive information in ways that cannot be hacked

Using a single dedicated document management system (DMS) with these digital tools will help you control the way they are kept secure and accessible for future collaboration.  Just putting them in a Google Drive or a DropBox account may make them more difficult to find, share, comment on and iterate. It may result in them being lost altogether in the noise of a messy shared drive.

2.How do you control your product development cycle? 

At the beginning of a dev process you need flexibility. High tech development teams often want to ideate in an unstructured way to generate ideas.  Maybe a developer just wants to start a discussion with their team about a hunch, a kernel of an idea they think is worth pursuing.  Doing this in a Slack or email channel can make a thread difficult to monitor and develop over time.  But an easy to set up, shared digital space in a DMS where different kinds of files can be dumped to spark conversations between a team, can keep your thoughts all in one location.

And if the idea then grows and turns into a concrete proposition you will have a record of the initial ideation process that you can begin to expand on in more formal ways.   

Many of our clients use their Document Management Systems as flexible, digital collaboration spaces first, then bring in phase gating tools to structure their processes as their projects grow.

Over time they use their DMS to control their documentation and innovation process; to share ideas in specific ways, to start converting specs into plans; locking them down for editing and archiving them as part of their formal Design History File.

3. How do you establish feasibility?

Document control tools are also needed to ensure that projects do not progress until their continued feasibility has been established and approval given at key moments in a project.  The ability to gather documentation together, to request stop/go reviews before new sequences of development are triggered is a critical part of establishing a sustainable product innovation process.

4. How do you capture customer feedback?

But innovation doesn’t stop when you launch. Your mechanisms for capturing customer feedback and triggering regular product reviews will be key to delivering better versions of your product in the future.  Formal document control tools and workflows can be used to build required CAPA procedures, where customer complaints are documented, assessed, prioritised for action, delivered and reviewed.  Similarly, your commitment to the continous improvement of your end product can be delivered through the document control software you use.  Using formal workflows to capture customer feedback and gather relevant data together can be the starting point for new feature specification.  This is in turn can lead to a whole process of design, innovation and development - once again controlled and validated through your DMS.

5. How do you improve your processes?

Becoming a more innovative organisation is about being able to optimise your development processes to make them more efficient and effective.  And finding a way to ensure you can repeat your product successes beyond a successful first strike.

Many of the innovating companies we work with use their document management systems as the structuring device for future successful, development projects.  

These companies use their systems to set up templates for required and standard documentation such as:

  • Business case documentation
  • User requirements specifications
  • Engineering specifications
  • Verification and validation matrices
These are then grouped together in ‘document holders’ in their DMS ready to be completed.  Document holders capture the relevant set of documents for a particular development phase - and once approved in the DMS act as a natural phase gate for the next phase of development.

Using their DMS software tools they configure their own system of approvals and notifications to track and control the progress of each of their development projects.  As each project progresses they iterate and tweak their phase gates to optimise for best results.  As a result, with each new project they take on, their template for new product development becomes even more effective and efficient.

Document control software shouldn’t be a drag on your development.  It shouldn’t stifle creativity or stop you from ideating freely.  The world needs developers to think differently and be given the space to make mistakes and pursue those ‘long shot’ ideas.  What the right document control software can do is provide oversight for an entire organisation as these processes take place.  They can help bring ideation to heel at critical moments, help shape product ideas into commercial propositions and oversee their transformation into real world products.

Value of a DMS for product development

Tags: Document Control