It’s Midnight. Do You Know Where Your Projects Are?

Product innovation shouldn’t be scary. But if you don’t know where projects are throughout the development process, those projects could be as good as gone. This article considers how the level of visibility organizations have into a product as it progresses through the full commercialization process directly relates to its success. What steps can organizations take to expand their field of vision into product lifecycles and how can having a single source of truth be the light in the darkness?

Let’s face it: the unknown is often scarier than reality. Movies depend on this, building up the suspense with frightening music, or even worse, silence, as the viewer tries to anticipate what’s lurking in the dark or hiding in the closet just before the unsuspecting victim slowly turns the doorknob.

While the unknown is frightening, taking the fear out of it can actually be quite simple: You just need visibility.

While the unknown is frightening, taking the fear out of it can actually be quite simple: You just need visibility. If you could turn on the light, you would see the contents of the room and identify the mythical boogeyman concealed in the shadows or any other potential hazards. No fear in the light, right?

Much in the same way, when organizations have projects in the pipeline but no visibility into their status as they progress through their lifecycle, it becomes quite a nightmare to keep timelines, deliverables, and budgets intact. Projects lose their way, ROI suffers and project managers are left picking up the scattered pieces. (Insert bloodcurdling scream here.)

Why You Should Be Afraid of the Dark

Some organizations are still in the dark when it comes to project innovation.

Movie drama aside, some organizations are still in the dark when it comes to project innovation. They are limping along, relying on manual, outdated Excel spreadsheets for data collected from multiple sources who have no idea how their piece contributes to the bigger picture of delivering products to market. Departments work in silos and there’s no oversight on the handoff, let alone a dedicated person in charge of the innovation process and supporting tools. A great idea loses steam when there are no resources available to dedicate to the product or project. A “sure thing” ends up being killed (often too late) because incomplete or delayed market analysis resulted in too many product modifications that sacrificed too much margin.

Another corner of darkness exists for companies who piecemeal their innovation processes. Think of it this way: nine times out of ten when you see an end-to-end product development process, it is represented by the graphic of a funnel, like the figure below. All of the great winning ideas enter the wide part of the funnel; they are narrowed down to the ideas showing merit and value for business case development and prototyping; a smaller few are developed; and out the narrow end of the funnel come the winners (or so we hope) that get launched to market. Now . . . imagine if that funnel had cracks – “handoffs” between people or tools, where good ideas could potentially slip out. When you have a fragmented innovation process, great peril and risk can be found. (Enter dramatic music here.)

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With so much confusion and chaos, it’s a miracle any product successfully makes it to market. Countless piles of money are squandered when there’s no real order, little visibility and no single source of truth from which to make good decisions. With no view into the full portfolio, projects get approved based on personality and without any knowledge of the impact the project will have on the resource pool, other in-flight projects, or the roadmap. The good news is there are always opportunities to improve, no matter the stage of an organization’s maturity, when it comes to innovation management.

Flip On the Innovation Light Switch

A complete solution should combine industry best practices, technology, a supporting organization, and analytics that drive performance.

So jump to the end of the scary movie: the bad guy is dead and the hero who saved all of humanity gets the girl. This type of happy ending is available for your organization’s innovation program too, but it requires someone to turn on the light to provide visibility and chase away the dark. A complete solution should combine industry best practices, technology, a supporting organization, and analytics that drive performance. This is precisely why we created The Innovation Management Maturity Model™. This framework, which was premiered in the Fourth Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study, helps organizations evaluate their current maturity and desired future state when it comes to the people, processes and tools used to help manage innovation, using a scale of one to five, with five being the most mature. While level five isn’t necessarily the end goal for every brand or product line, it does hint at some of the things necessary to gain the desperately needed visibility required to compete in this fast-paced, competitive world of innovation.

Establishing a roadmap between where you are today and how you’re going to get to your end state doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult, but it does need to be thoughtful and championed by the executives at the end of the hallway. There is no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all solution. Each organization needs to decide for itself, designing a flexible process with purpose-Establishing a roadmap between where you are today and how you’re going to get to your end state doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult, but it does need to be thoughtful and championed by the executives at the end of the hallway. There is no prescriptive, one-size-fits-all solution. Each organization needs to decide for itself, designing a flexible process with purpose-built tools to automate the process, fitting the exact specifications needed to help achieve strategic product goals.

One major caveat: please don’t try to tackle an end-to-end solution all at once. It’s okay to grow into it, but have a plan to get there, step by step. Here are a few recommended next steps to get you out of the dark:

  1. Determine your current state of innovation management maturity
  2. Define your end state of innovation management maturity
  3. Draw your organization’s “funnel” to reflect the end state, or use the one above
  4. Assess what people, processes and tools you have in place today that are working well for each of the major functions in your end-to-end model (emphasis on the working well part)
  5. Identify the gaps surrounding the people, processes and tools in your model
  6. Prioritize which of the gaps, if addressed, would provide the biggest return to your organization (revenue increase, cost decrease, employee retention, risk mitigation, etc.)
  7. Then, go tackle that gap with gusto, pulling in experts for advice along the way
  8. Measure, celebrate and communicate the ROI, as the executives cheer and carry you out on their shoulders

Know Exactly Where Your Children Are

The benefits of having an end-to-end, clearly defined process with supporting tools allows your company to understand exactly where everything is along the path.

Once the lights are on, you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor without fear. Visibility at last! Your product babies are safe and secure, being gently shepherded through the product development lifecycle. The benefits of having an end-to-end, clearly defined process with supporting tools allows your company to understand exactly where everything is along the path, without the risk of searching dark alleys alone. If your product strategy includes a mix of breakthrough innovations, line extensions, new markets for existing products, and some of those “have to do” regulatory projects, this is a must.

Your end-state drawing needs to consider and incorporate the management of a product AFTER launch with in-market analysis and end-of-life efforts. The analytics are absolutely paramount to providing the insights needed to shine a light on every detail of your products and projects throughout their lifecycles. Employing analytics based on real-time data, replaces fear with courage. Nothing is hidden in the dark; nothing is going to jump out and scare you. Decisions can be made with confidence and innovation can thrive. (Fade scene to sunset.)

Need more encouragement? Why not learn from those who have been there, done that at PIPELINE 2014: The Virtual Conference and Hub for Innovative Product Development on June 6. Innovation practitioners will cover every aspect of end-to-end innovation management and topic area experts will represent each stage, offering thorough explanations of its importance and value, as well as how to implement it across the organization. This free virtual conference promises to provide actionable strategies that can be applied immediately. Register now.

By Carrie Nauyalis

About the author

Carrie Nauyalis, NPD Solution Evangelist at Planview, is passionate about establishing customer partnerships, developing market positioning, defining field enablement strategies, providing market-based feedback into Planview product development, and being an overall evangelist and thought leader for the Product Development market. She is an active speaker, MBA guest lecturer, blogger, and vlogger on all things Product Portfolio Management, with warm places in her heart for the topics of innovation, Stage-Gate, and Agile.

Follow Carrie on Twitter: @PDPMprincess

Photo Nightly sky with large moon by Shutterstock.com

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