Have you ever watched the Indianapolis 500? An Indy car usually requires five pit stops during the race. A pit stop takes only 10 seconds to complete and requires the orchestration of 11 highly specialized mechanics. While I’m not a big race fan, I was amazed by these facts so out of curiosity, I watched a number of You Tube videos to completely appreciate and understand this crucial task.
New product development is like an Indy pit stop. It’s only a small part of the business plan, but probably the most critical. For example, a medical device may enjoy a life cycle of 10 or more years, but success depends upon perhaps two years of labor on the front end by a crack product development “pit crew.”
1. Mobilizing the best crew
Many large companies assign people to project teams based upon availability rather than fit. Sometimes their crews lack members with critical skills in the areas of ergonomics or research. Sometimes crews lack members with the creativity or will to explore new directions in the search for the best solution. Sometimes crews lack members with the political courage or presumed standing to challenge uninformed group decisions.
Outside your immediate field of view is a design firm that is a terrific fit for your project with the exact expertise and experience that you require. With 12-15 people, the typical design firm can’t afford to hire anyone but the best for each of the roles. In addition, because of the ebb and flow of business, firms always have hired guns ready at the drop of a hat to come in and work on projects where they are the experts.
2. Practicing for perfection
Due to regulatory requirements and the financial investment required, most medical device manufacturers develop a single device at a time. Given a development cycle that may take several years, an in-house industrial designer – hired for his/her creativity, problem solving and ability to empathize with users – may work only on this one project for that length of time. And a mechanical engineer with a love and knack for solving highly technical challenges may spend a fraction of his/her time honing that skill and the rest pushing paperwork and change orders through the system.
Just like the pit crew, a design firm focuses on new product development every day and repeats that cycle many times per year. This enables a highly trained team of experts the opportunity to hone their skills and continually get better at what they do and love.
3. Smooching the trophy
Motivation plays a huge role in enabling a company to win the race. Sometimes internal product development teams fall victim to inertia caused by confusion over the best way to proceed or face political issues related to competition between members in different silos. Other times team members are distanced too far down in the organizational structure to easily resolve conflicts that block the path to the finish line. An outside contributor will share management’s sense of urgency in wishing to bring a product to market in a glitch-free way and can mediate differences.
For these reasons, companies should consider adding an outside design firm to their pit crews.