Cycle time reduction is usually reserved for the engineering/manufacturing phases of the new product development process. This is not surprising since it’s fairly easy to measure the time to make an engineering change or create a CAD drawing. But how do you reduce cycle time within the more subjective activities of the early phases of new product development a.k.a. Fuzzy Front End (FFE)?
Three Critical Considerations: Unfortunately, there is no single easy solution to reducing the cycle time of the FFE. Three of the most critical challenges typically encountered in reducing FEE cycle times include:
1. Lack of strategic focus
2. Absence of a sustainable new product development front-end process
3. A lack of capabilities and infrastructure to support a front-end process
If you don’t have a strategic focus, get one. You need to understand where you’re going to compete, who you’re going to serve and what technology is going to get you there. If you do have a strategic focus, communicate it. Start communicating your strategic focus to the members of your team. If your strategic focus is not evident to your team, you’re just going to be spinning your wheels with a lot of off-strategy ideas. Off-strategy ideas equate to wasted time.
The Importance of a Front End Process
We have witnessed many companies rushing their products to market without investing time to understand either the market or the customer. Perhaps the sales person makes a few customer calls, but that’s about all. Sure enough, that cuts down on the cycle time in the FFE, but equally surely, it spells disaster. Remember Robert Cooper’s research, where poorly-defined early-phased FFE activities equated to a 26% success rate, whereas sharp and early definition produced a success rate of 85%. So we certainly do not recommend skipping these important FFE activities for the sake of reducing your cycle time.
Infrastructure Is Essential
Essential FFE capabilities include a marketing research team that performs on-going research to gain an understanding of unmet customer needs, attitudes, perceptions, market size, trends etc. The team is responsible for constantly feeding a pipeline of opportunities, so that marketing research efforts are independent of any single project. This offers considerable advantages over the alternative approach, which involves setting up ad hoc research capabilities and additional time-consuming data collection for each new product that is released to market.
Perhaps you already have a marketing research team, but everything still seems to move at snail’s pace. This is a familiar problem. It usually lies with too many off-strategy ideas, and either a lack of strategic focus, or a failure to communicate the strategic focus to the marketing research team.
If you’re genuinely serious about releasing successful new products and reducing cycle time in the FFE, do your due diligence, and ensure that you have an excellent understanding of your customers and market. Assess whether your organization has a sustainable new product development process—one with the right market research capabilities. Last but not least, ensure that you have a strategic focus, thereby reducing all those off-strategy ideas.
The secret is that by ensuring a more robust and focused up-front product development process you will achieve the desirable side-effects of reduced cycle times and successful new products.