Thursday, May 24, 2007

Traveling without a map

I've just received an email from a noted expert in the field of new product development, which offers me the chance to attend a seminar on speeding up the idea to product process. The email tells me I'll learn new ways to make Go/Kill decisions faster and eliminate time wasting activities in the idea to product process. While I agree these are important things to know, I suspect that most people already know and implement these things. What takes a significant amount of time, psychic energy and attention in the idea to product process is trying to figure out what is strategic and important in a wide range of business opportunities and focusing on just those things.

In most organizations I've worked with, just about anyone can tell you how to take an idea from early concept to productization very quickly. The challenge isn't understanding the steps, but in defining a repeatable process. Even with a repeatable process in place, the next challenge - and in my mind the biggest - is getting a sense of which problems or opportunities are the most important to solve, and identifying the best ideas to solve those problems.

Why is this the "hard" part? Well, it is sort of like traveling without a map. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there. Management teams have not been specific enough about their expectations for differentiation, growth and change in their organizations. Look at the most "innovative" firms. They have either charismatic leadership (Apple) or exceptionally clear guidelines for growth and differentiation (3M, P&G). The words and directions from these management teams filter down and create an understanding within the product teams and business units that focus the team on the right topics and help to drive out good ideas. Without good communications, clear goals and alignment to strategy, an innovation team or process will struggle - not because they don't understand the process, but because the range of options and considerations is simply too large. Innovation teams and initiatives need clearly defined scope and outrageous expectations to help them focus on the right ideas to bring to market as new products and services.

The challenge most of these teams face isn't structural or process per se, but the fact they deal in a significant amount of uncertainty due to poor goal setting and communication from their senior management teams as to what is important and how to prioritize the opportunities and challenges they face. Sure, go ahead and apply "lean" thinking to your process and eliminate time wasting activities. But until you have clear, concise goals and scope, your team won't speed up the idea to product process. When you are traveling without a map or destination in mind, every crossroad is appealing and no path is clear.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:40 AM

50 Comments:

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Goals if not specifice is like " traveling without a map". Very well written.

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Very insightful piece, Jeffrey. I have posted a coda to this on my site. You can find it at:

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Let me know what you think.

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