Maximising Remote Collaboration for New Product Development

Remote Collaboration_New Product Development Opt (1)Remote collaboration is the new normal and set to be a major feature of the post-Covid world.  Workers have found new ways to be productive and organise their lives in lockdown. Meanwhile, bosses have seen efficiencies emerge from scaled back office outgoings. And they are now eying opportunities presented by a virtual world for more borderless employment and third party collaboration.

Opportunity vs Risk

But with those opportunities comes a risk. A risk that outside the controlled environment of the physical office, teams will be more fragmented while processes become less thorough. This has been a particular challenge for those developing new products for high tech and regulated industry.  But those challenges have often been a result of the digital tools the businesses have taken with them into lockdown.

Almost a year into the COVID crisis, how are your document management systems shaping up to the challenge of controlling and enhancing virtual collaboration?

How are those silos?

Silos have always been a problem for high tech firms. Invisible walls between sales, marketing and development teams have traditionally kept businesses from optimising their processes. Now that some offices are entirely virtual, there’s an even greater danger of teams becoming fragmented as they pursue their own priorities - and ignore those of others.  Is your document management a ‘single source of truth’ when it comes to managing your products and projects?

● Have you got the latest version of all your specs and plans stored in one place?

● Are all stakeholders alerted when changes are suggested or made?

● Are PMs able to use their digital tools to bring projects and teams together when you’re delivering a new product?

● Can PMs easily establish phase gates?

● Can you assemble documentation for approval, and trigger new phases of development when previous stages have been signed off?

How are your comms?

How do your teams communicate on big projects? Are you using a single tool? Or are updates, suggestions and approvals driven through a range of platforms such as email, Google docs, Slack, Monday and the rest. Many teams have got used to operating like this, but there’s a real risk that working in this way will lead to omissions and oversights resulting in products that don’t meet specifications and don’t answer customer needs. At the same time, they could see you ending up without a proper audit trail, risking compliance and preventing the investigations of mistakes and failures.

How’s your automation?

We’ve all got used to a certain informality in recent months. Dressed down on those daily Zoom calls and showing off our kitchen units to all and sundry. But when it comes to managing documentation as part of development projects, we need to bring rigour and formality to our process. This is even more critical for a dispersed workforce, when we’re not physically in the office to guide each other and help correct mistakes.   Is your Document Management System capable of controlling key processes in your development cycle in prescribed ways?

● Can you automate specific workflows for quality documentation?

● Can you ensure document drafts are always seen by the required people and that they always go through an agreed sequence of scrutiny and approval?

● Are you confident that these required processes cannot be circumvented or ignored?

How’s your compliance?

Many businesses were caught out by the speed and severity of the multiple lockdowns that have happened over the last year. They were not set up for such long stretches of remote working and as a result often found they were missing vital compliance capabilities in their digital tool kit.

For example, some medical device developers found they were still reliant on ‘wet signatures’ to sign off for their regulatory documentation. This was such an issue that the MHRA had to issue emergency guidelines around using e-signatures for med tech approval.

If we’re now looking at the long term potential of more home working as an alternative to an office bound life, what are the areas you need to concentrate on to minimise risk of compliance shortfalls? Do you need to focus on improving virtual audit capabilities, so that external certification can take place? Is your document management system accessible, intuitive and user friendly enough for auditors to navigate and retrieve required documents?

Why not just use Google Drive as a document management system?

How’s your onboarding?

Many existing workers have embraced the virtual office as an opportunity. Confident in their roles and responsibilities they’ve been able to transplant their day to day activities successfully from work to home. But for those joining companies for the first time, mastering a new job as well as a whole new set of digital tools has been more of a challenge.

How many sets of credentials and software packages are you giving new starters? Is it clear what channel they should use for different kinds of communication? 

When you introduce your new team members to the organisation can you direct them to your definitive set of organisational flow charts and SOPs that show them everything they need to know. If your virtual onboarding is proving a challenge, maybe you should be considering a cloud-based Business Management System to capture and control the way information is shared with your workers:

A graphical Business Management System can create layers of detail, so process flows can be used to gain a quick ‘high level’ understanding of a function, as well as letting you drill down into the detail of how a task is carried out.

How’s your security?

The most serious risk for employers is that document security might be compromised with workers logging in from home.  Are all your sensitive documents properly filed and secured using the correct protocols?  Are your document management tools password protected? Does your system demand regular password changes and support two-factor authentication to further guard against unauthorised access?

What's  next?

Back at the beginning of the first lockdown, you may have thought that virtual working was just a blip. Now it looks like it’s here to stay. Maybe you thought your rapidly stitched together remote working tools would be enough to see you through a few months, but now you could be feeling more strain on your processes than ever before.

Now we could be shifting to patterns of more long term virtual working, is it time to consider minimising risks of data loss through secure, single platform collaboration?

Remote working is both risk and opportunity. But risks can be minimised and opportunities exploited when you’ve got the right digital tools.

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Joe Byrne

Written by Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is the CEO of Cognidox. With a career spanning medical device start-ups and fortune 500 companies, Joe has over 25 years of experience in the medical device and high-tech product development industries. With extensive experience in scaling businesses, process improvement, quality, medical devices and product development, Joe is a regular contributor to the Cognidox DMS Insights blog where he shares expertise on scaling and streamlining the entire product development cycle, empowering enterprises to achieve governance, compliance, and rigour.