New methods in product development — When it pays to make the switch and how to manage the changeover
I enjoy good food, but I’m not much of a cook. So when I want to prepare a good meal, I tend to cook by recipe. The right ingredients, good equipment and a clearly defined process usually lead to success.
If such an approach works in the kitchen, why not in product development? Based on existing frameworks, successful companies publish their concepts and methods. Former employees write books. Specialized consultants offer their services to introduce these methods and frameworks in their own companies. The necessary information to adopt good concepts is therefore available.
The foundation as a starting point
What ingredients and equipment are in the kitchen, can be factors such as organization, culture, mission, or the market environment in the company. In both cases, the result will not be the same if the foundations with which one works are different.
If there are problems in the organization, the basic responsibility structure or the technical infrastructure, methods and processes alone cannot solve them. They will therefore not have the desired effect. In most cases, the differences are then used as an excuse not to implement methods consistently because “we are different”. The root problems are rarely addressed. The result, however, remains underperformed.
However, there can also be good reasons why a method cannot be applied in a meaningful way. Different business models or market conditions have an impact on the necessity of certain methods and processes. A company that has to win customers through tenders cannot use the same set of methods as a startup in an innovative space.
Maturity as a success factor
In all likelihood, the companies cited at conferences or on the Internet will not be so successful primarily because of the use of a particular method. Rather, it is due to the maturity level of the respective organization and other factors. For example, experienced employees who were responsible for the development and implementation and who were able to do so within a framework that provided them with sufficient support. Having the necessary expertise in-house is critical. Copying methods without the appropriate level of maturity will not yield the same results as for the organizations that set the example.
Distribute responsibilities correctly
The most important principle is that a method should serve a purpose and not be the purpose itself. If this principle is taken seriously, there should also be no manifestation of methods in the organizational structure. Because if you have only a hammer, all challenges are nails for you. No matter if external or internal: if you ask defined method experts, their method will certainly be the solution for all challenges. For the respective experts it is hardly a problem, because they usually do not bear the responsibility for the result, which remains in the development teams.
Therefore, it is advisable to first identify a method that fits the problem and then a suitable set of experts. In addition, consulting companies and employees with a broad spectrum of methods can be preferred. However, responsibility for the use of methods should remain with the responsible managers and never with the method experts.
How to properly approach a change of methods
Those responsible for changing methods should have sufficient experience with different methods. If the responsible leader is not an expert in this area, experienced employees should be found for this purpose. Consultants can also play a role, but should then be engaged on a long-term basis. Only in this way can they train employees sufficiently and ensure the quality of implementation. Depending on the scope of the method and the size of the company, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to two years. An introduction of only a few days without further support usually fails.
It has proven helpful to start the transformation with one team. For this purpose, a motivated team should be found that can later serve as a positive example for other teams to follow. It also offers the opportunity to overcome obstacles more easily with motivated employees and to solve potential issues in advance before the rollout throughout the company.
Further challenges in change management:
- In the transition phase, things can get worse before they get better. This phase can last up to several months.
- Some of the employees will be very critical or even actively discourage the introduction. These are often experienced team members who are not very enthusiastic about the method change. It is important to listen to them. They often point out relevant aspects that may cause problems and that need to be resolved or invalidated. If a larger part of the employees oppose, it should be ensured that all reasons are clarified before the introduction proceeds. Such a situation could arise as a result of unspoken concerns.
- The perception of employees during such transition phases is enormously important. Successful communication including feedback loops is therefore a requirement.