Peter Heuss, P.Eng.
Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
New Product Introduction (NPI), bringing a new idea to market, is often a much more complex process than expected. In previous blogs, I’ve talked about aspects of taking a product into production like writing a business plan, design for supply chain and design for assembly. The common thread is that this is a multi-disciplinary process. There are lots of stakeholders and to have a successful product, all of the stakeholders must be considered throughout.
The ultimate stakeholder of course, is the customer. This is something that many of us will forget, it’s natural that the engineers, designers, and craftsmen who developed an idea will take pride in their work. But, if customers aren’t willing to buy your product, you don’t have a product.
Taking your product into production can often be the first point where the project becomes truly multi-disciplinary. And I don’t mean different types of engineering. NPI is the first time that all the groups in a company must be involved. It’s good practice to include all the stakeholders during ideation and design, that will allow a company to develop better products quicker. But when taking an idea into production, involving everyone in the company is critical.
There are a lot of different stakeholders that have a wide array of skill sets (and opinions) and they all need to effectively contribute. finance, sales and marketing, purchasing, logistics, assembly, service, QA/QC all have input to a successful product and must be part of the development process.
Managing all of the stakeholders means that the one key role in the NPI process will be the project manager. They may not have that title, but someone needs to consider the entire cross-functional scope of the project while balancing budget, timeline, as well as the needs and capabilities of all of the stakeholders. This is not a skill set that everyone has and randomly assigning the role to part of the team, or worse, dividing the project management responsibilities across the team, can severely jeopardize the project.
Early stage companies may not have the multi-disciplinary staff or experience required for a NPI project. Engineers will rarely be good at sourcing, there may not be a purchasing department yet, or they may not have experience with negotiating longer term volume-based supply contracts. The list goes on. NPI is one point where a company should not try to learn by trying.
NPI is time sensitive and expensive. It is also not a core function, most companies don’t continually develop products, NPI will be an occasional activity and not something that requires full time staff (and the associated long term cost). Finding external support for missing experience is not a failing, but often the best way to effectively get to the company’s real goal, to get that new product into production.
An external firm may be the best option for project management where experienced NPI people can provide support just for the duration of the project. Providing guidance on requirements and timing they can also assist in building internal teams and processes to support production shortening the overall development time and helping to set the company up for success.
NPI is all about getting your concept to market as quickly and effectively as possible. For most companies, NPI will be a periodic necessity, and not a core function. Therefore, it is important to consider the current team and establish if there is already a team member who can take on the critical role of project manager for this new product. If not, finding budget to bring on an external firm who can manage the NPI process and allow the team to focus on what they know best – the product and its potential customer – can save money, time, and get that product into production much more efficiently.