For those in charge of new product development, the best feeling is when one of their “offsprings” makes it to market. The delight of customers is absolutely infectious. On the other hand, one of the most disappointing feelings for product developers is when an idea suddenly fizzles out and disappears.
Anecdotal Evidence Representative of a Larger Trend
For the purposes of this article, we will consider the case of one particular daily goods manufacturer. The company’s researchers were at wit’s end over a frustrating situation that is all too common in product development. At that particular business, new product ideas were devised and screened in the laboratory, then passed around departments during the creation process. However, it seemed that a great number of these ideas, so painstakingly thought up in the laboratory, were just vanishing into the blue. Why? For the most part, it comes down to a flawed organizational structure.
The Problem of Organizational Structure
The particular manufacturer referenced above had a so-called “vertical organization structure”. Assigning product managers to oversee numerous departments proved ineffective. Furthermore, the research department where all of these great new ideas were being generated was managed by a department that refused to view things from outside of their own vantage point, and they acted conservatively. The more innovative an idea was, the more skeptical they became.
“Is this really going to work out?” they would incessantly ask.
“Are you guys going to take responsibility for it if it fails? There are so many other things you could be doing!” they exclaimed.
It didn’t take much for a good idea to go up in smoke. It’s an unfortunate situation that played out time and time again.
Eventually, the will to think up new ideas and champion them began to fade. Little by little people began to think only of their own teams, growing increasingly narrow-minded. Productivity came to a standstill. This is referred to as “Big Company Disease”. When this happens, a company is no longer able to churn out winning products like it once did. When new products aren’t forthcoming, it’s important to take a look at whether the organizational structure is to blame. While it’s true that company-wide reforms may be in order, there is another way to approach this type of problem.
The Need for Diverse Input Throughout the Many Stages of Product Development
One thing that became apparent when considering the potential problem of organizational structure is the fact that the people in charge of manufacturing and those in charge of sales had no participation at the conception and screening stages. They were given ideas without knowing any of the particulars or expectations of the people who had come up with those ideas in the first place.
Consider the perspective of someone who would ask the following: “Do I personally believe this is a valid concept that deserves priority?” The process should have been much more objective. Failing to try every idea at least once means there was no way of proving definitively which ones had merit. However, because of things like budgeting, manpower and time, a seemingly great idea is often impossible in reality. In the absence of a better method, the employees in charge of sales and commercialization were subjectively choosing ideas they themselves found compelling. If they could do that, they could muster up the energy to put their personally selected ideas into practice.
In the case of the company referred to in this case, the division in charge of presenting quality ideas received concepts in which they personally had “no consent and no sense of worth”. Therefore, employees were probably not considering them as seriously as they might have. It is also important to note that human beings are naturally prone to finding flaws in ideas and become critical. However, during the fault-finding process, it is not possible for forward-thinking examination to occur.
In recent years we have carried out a considerable number of meetings and training sessions using ITS philosophy and techniques, helping our customers develop new products. At the conceptual stage, liberal generation of ideas without evaluation is super-important. Yet at the same time, a balance between company’s capability and customer desires must be maintained. In other words, it’s important to put out lots of ideas without placing biases on them. While we do host a great deal of training sessions and meetings, our idea screening trainings are in heavy demand.
How are things at your organization?
Is the screening process recognized for its true importance?
Are the proper selection methods being used?
The ITS Package
ITS is a set package that promotes divergent thinking through 7 Inventing Techniques. It encourages convergent thinking through a combination of 7 Screening Techniques, 7 Polishing Techniques, and 7 Implementation Techniques to form a complete system.
While structural reorganization has its benefits, there are many cases where it is even more important to consider revising the processes of cross-functional collaboration. There are numerous advantages to breaking down silos using the above-mentioned “ITS Method” as well as screening techniques.