Product development and product innovation are extremely important functions in the world of consumer packaged goods as well as other companies. Highly successful new product development and its ties to profitability and stock price are well known facts on Wall Street. Apple comes to mind as a company that owes much of its continued success to innovation, development and customer satisfaction. Talking about innovation and development is the easy part of the equation. The execution is typically more difficult than the development process.
Many times, the actual development of a new product is the easy part. Then it is time to answer more questions. Will the customer like it? Has the value of the new product been confirmed with the consumer? How will it be marketed? Who is the target audience? Is the consumer target our “typical” customer, or are we working to break into a new market segment? Is procurement able to get all the ingredients and packaging materials needed and in time? Can production manufacture the new product with existing equipment, or is a new line required? How will the product be distributed? Direct store door delivery, frozen distribution, traditional warehouse? Were all the needed questions asked and answered?
Asking these questions about introducing products and searching for the answers brings to mind a discussion with my daughter, Leah, when she was in the seventh grade. Leah’s conversation about working in teams to complete a science class assignment went something like this: “Mom, I hate team projects. My team members won’t do anything. If I want a good grade, I have to do all the work. Why does the teacher make me work with the other people? I would rather just get the project done myself. It takes at least twice as long to get done, and the project isn’t as good as if I did it myself.”
Welcome to life in the business world, Leah. No one is an island, and the sooner you learn to work as a team, the easier life will be in the long run. Working in teams is a learned process and harder for some individuals than others.
Teamwork is also key to the success of the new product development process — and not just teamwork within the R&D lab. We are talking about cross-functional teams in companies that represent all areas of the company involved in getting the product to market. Whether you are using the stage gate process to manage new product introductions or using another method, making sure you have excellent collaboration within your team is essential to shorten time from concept to consumer.
As stated by Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, who spoke about “Building high performance teams in a high demand world” at the recent ABA convention, you must have the right players on the bus. The right players must then be in the correct seats. The right players in the right seats increases your chances of creating a high-functioning team to introduce new products while decreasing your time to market, which is a win-win!