How does one proceed when the objective is more success from product development efforts? What choices should be made when the votes that matter most are those of the customer? Is there another important factor?
Contrasting ten approaches to new product development
Recently I heard someone present survey data that listed problems associated with new product development. In my opinion, the report didn't provide sufficient inspiration for new and effective solutions to common problems. Although there were characterizations of problems for managers of new product development teams, the guidance for 'how' to solve the problem was missing.
I do not learn much from the survey results but the incident did provide the catalyst to summarize a few of my evolving convictions
- Some NPD leaders want bigger teams and massive project budgets. I prefer smaller teams that operate with implicit coordination and earn support as they create value.
- Some want to be assured of stability and to study the market until they have reports to legitimize their assumptions. I prefer to validate assumptions with well-crafted experiments.
- Some only move when there seems to be abundant stability. I have trained to handle changes because they are an intrinsic aspect of development and they provide opportunities to evaluate my proficiency.
- Some groups detest changing priorities. I prefer to shape priorities. I do not want to be paralyzed by them.
- Some teams want to be provided with detailed project plans. They want a list of product requirements. I don’t want these thrust upon me. I prefer to provide valuable input to discover customer’s needs and evolve the plans.
- Some individuals want to be told what customers want. I don’t want to be given a summary of the customer’s needs. I prefer to participate in gathering and testing insights and exploring the raw data.
- I don’t want more planning by administrators. I don’t want a more adaptive plan. I want more fit and adaptive contributors.
- Some development professionals want to extend the deadlines of their long duration projects. I advocate shorter, more focused efforts.
- Some practitioners will tolerate some trial and error in their approach to new product development. I want to be certain to win because I am grounded in great theory and have gained competence. I strive to improve my performance through continuing deliberative practice.
- Some managers evaluate the performance of their new product development teams using metrics that relate to on-time, on-budget, and on-scope project compliance. Some use local metrics such as story points per sprint. It is no secret that these metrics can be gamed. I have come to regard such metrics as proxies for effectiveness. For me, the most important factors that impact team performance include items such as the quality and quantity of my learning, the professional growth of other contributors, the effective use of time and skills, and an increase in respect for my colleagues.
The Principle of Obliquity
The approach I prefer is based on the Principle of Obliquity which states that it is best to pursue some objectives indirectly. Instead of focusing your resources on developing a profitable product under an explicit process, consider creating value for specific groups. Two choices include the people that will use the product and the individual contributors developing it.
Much has been discussed about how to design an appropriate user experience and the customer-facing aspect of new product development. There is an abundant amount of information on the impact of social media on new product success.
As a new product development synergist, I have a passionate interest in understanding how individual contributors coordinate and collaborate within a network. Under certain conditions, the network of individual contributors produces many desirable results.
What are the factors that are more likely to result in success for individual contributors to new product development efforts? What may transform someone from an attitude of indifference (such as 'I am working for a paycheck' or 'I put in my required time today') to engagement?
According to the Self-Determination Theory there are three innate needs for optimal function and growth. They are competence, relatedness, and autonomy. A recently popular version of this theory is described by Dan Pink in his book "Drive" He selected the words 'autonomy, mastery, and purpose.'
The best projects
I enjoy hearing stories from competent individuals that have had many opportunities to participate in new product development projects. Some of my favorite stories have been prompted by a question such as "Can you tell me about the best project of your career?"
I do not think that any of the 'best project' stories have extolled micromanagement, Gantt charts, excessive bureaucracy, or boredom. I do not think that the introduction of a new filing system, project database, idea management system, or a version tracking system have been mentioned in one of the stories that I have heard. Sometimes the stories mention the development of a wonderful new product.
Recurring elements of 'best project' stories included references to gaining respect for colleagues, learning valuable new skills, gratefulness about the time team members invested to pursue a worthwhile goal, making new friends, and team cohesiveness. It is no surprise that there is significant overlap with the 'autonomy, mastery, and purpose' factors described by Dan Pink when he talks about motivation.
New 'best project' stories
I have had a few projects that are candidates for a story about the 'best project of my new product development career.' However, because of better insights and deliberative practice, I predict that my 'all time best project' story will be based on a future project.
Perhaps you have a 'best project of your career' story. Hopefully, another story will be based on one of your future projects.
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