Is there an exception to the claim that "There is no silver bullet to New Product Development?"
This post was inspired by a 12 November 2012 Strategy 2 Market post. The post asserts:
"The truth is that there is no single solution. Instead, a well-run new product development organization is a complex and demanding endeavor."
The author did not specify a definition for "silver bullet" or a quantitative assessment. Perhaps the author's intended definition is similar to:
Silver Bullet: Something that instantly solves a long-standing problem.
Frederick P. Brooks, the author of the book "The Mythical Man-month" specified that the "no silver bullet" phrase asserted that "no single software engineering development will produce an order-of-magnitude improvement in programming productivity within ten years."
Kelly Johnson and Skunk Works®
One famous exception was Kelly Johnson and the Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin. According to Wikipedia, they designed and built the XP-80 Shooting Star jet fighter in only 143 days, seven less than was required. Success factors included the unique abilities of Kelly Johnson plus the collaboration of a proficient group of individuals with a high degree of autonomy with Schwerpunkt - a concept that provided focus, direction, an actionable guidance to the operation.
Bantum and the Jeep
Another exception occurred in 1940. The US Army needed a four-wheel drive reconnaissance car. The original request was to supply a working prototype within 49 days. The American Bantum Car Company of Butler Pennsylvania accepted the challenge and produced a hand-built prototype and drove it to the test. The project success factors included collaborating with the talented designer, Karl Probst, leveraging existing components, and incorporating custom parts from Spicer, an agile partner. Their reconnaissance car is now known as the Jeep.
Complex Adaptive Systems
Beyond factors such as hard work, determination, and luck, I have found it helpful to explore more about the "system" described in the "There is no silver bullet to NPD" post.
Typically, much of an NPD environment can be characterized as a complex adaptive system. These systems co-evolve with the environment, have interacting agents, and emergent properties. The system impacts the agents. The agents impact the system. They have the potential to be self-organizing. There is not a single point of control.
In a complex adaptive system, the system and the agents co-evolve. We manage the present and evolve to an uncertain future. In these systems, we manage the boundaries and the probes. In such systems, you can do better with less. In this system, we strive to manage the network relationships.
Weak signal detection is very important in complex adaptive systems. They are not causal. They may be pre-disposed but one will not get 100% predictive capacity.
Complex Adaptive Systems are nonlinear - a small change can have a huge outcome.
New Product Development Networks
Instead of the concept of a "new product development team," I prefer to use a network paradigm to emphasize that individual contributors enter and leave the effort. They have multiple roles.
A development network is a complex adaptive system that changes its structure based on external or internal information that flows through the network during the learning phase
In such NPD systems, you can do better with less. The specifics vary with every context. When you can identify the factor that will have a huge impact, this provies the insight for how to use a silver bullet.
Directions for using Silver Bullets
To produce the intended results, one must do more than possess silver bullets. Success requires more than reading about silver bullets.
Silver bullets should come with directions. In a simplified format, the direction are:
- Repeat and refine
In an NPD context, the "Ready" step includes the appropriate leadership and talent. It requires the effective communication of mission intent.
The "Aim" step requires wisdom. A silver bullet analogy requires that one eliminate the factors that inhibit success. The use of a silver bullet implies that problems are eliminated without destroying success factors. One must have the wisdom to aim at the appropriate items.
Once the ready and aim pre-requisites have been achieved, one fires. In an NPD context, this is execution. To achieve success, a silver bullet plan must be implemented.
Success requires repetition and refinement. A new product development environment is a complex adaptive system. The system evolves. Previously identified threats and emerging threats must be eliminated for continued success.
Effective use of Silver Bullets
A silver bullet is not intended to be used as a talisman or an amulet. Silver bullets do not bring good fortune to those in proximity. A silver bullet is not a passive remedy.
The best results are obtained when silver bullets are used by skilled, vigilant practitioners. The skunkworks needed Kelly Johnson. The effort at Batum would not have been successful without Karl Probst. To ensure success, they accentuated the positive factors and eliminated the negative factors.