Speed Bumps Ahead: Medical Device Development and the Risks of Moving Too Fast
Competition in the medical device industry is already cutthroat. But an influx of investor-backed startups means the pressure is only ratcheting up. The investors who back these startups often don’t have a background in medical devices. And they expect to capture a speedy return on their investment. The result? Medical device executives across the industry are increasingly pressured to move with reckless speed in order to be first to market with new offerings.
It’s natural for executives to assume that picking up the pace is the best way to keep up with the competition. From their perspective, there is a direct link between reducing the time to market and increased revenue. How much additional revenue could be produced by going to market two months faster? And how many sales are lost when development drags on longer than expected?
Medical device companies with this mindset pile on additional resources, pay acceleration fees, and unintentionally cut corners to get things moving more quickly. They understand that the manufacturing process can’t be shortened. So the research, design, and testing phases inevitably take the hardest hits.
Compressing the medical device development process may seem like the most obvious way to give your organization a sorely needed leg up. But the choice to do this carries a host of hidden risks.
It’s a little like pulling a photograph out of developing fluid too early. A faint image is visible, but it’s less bold and well-defined than it should be. Go too fast, and you risk producing the equivalent of an underdeveloped photograph — a subpar product that damages your brand and alienates your market.
The Biggest Risks of Compressing the Medical Device Development Schedule
When you attempt to significantly compress the timeline of a medical product’s development schedule, you jeopardize your product, your brand, and your customers. By understanding the risks involved, you can make an informed decision and preserve the integrity of the development process. Here are some of the biggest risks of moving too fast:
The risk of losing brand equity. Your company’s brand equity is directly tied to the quality of your medical devices. Just one lesser product has the power to erode the brand equity and customer loyalty you’ve worked long and hard to cultivate. If you compress your development schedule, you risk releasing subpar products. Do that more than once or twice, and your brand equity will tank. Taking the time to properly design, test, and refine your products is the only way to ensure quality.
The risk of needing to relaunch your product. When you squeeze the medical device development timeline, you’re likely to be less thorough. You may even launch your product too soon, before it’s really ready for prime time. Doing this represents a major problem for marketing, distribution, and logistics. By the time you launch a product in the medical space, you typically already have distribution channels and buyers lined up. If you find you need to go back and fix a mistake after your product launches, you’ll do major damage to those distributor and customer relationships. Most of the time, you don’t get a second chance. By the time you come back to the table with your relaunched product, previously open doors will be shut.
The risk of making costly mistakes. The medical device development process is carefully structured to reduce the risk of going to market with costly mistakes. When you compress the development timeline, you reduce your ability to catch mistakes early as you optimize, test, and refine your product. The further along you get in the development process, the costlier it will be to fix major mistakes. For example, if your mistake means you need to recut even one tool, you stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the time you will lose to retooling. It’s always better to devote the necessary resources up front to testing and refining your product than it is to get hit with the unexpected, exorbitant costs of your own oversights and omissions.
The risk of setting your team up for failure. It may surprise you to consider that compressing your development timeline can have a negative impact on your team’s morale. Fast-tracking development often means abandoning best practices to achieve a shorter timeline. This can lead team members to feel like they are hamstrung in their efforts to produce the best possible medical device. In a culture like that, top talent — especially those who are passionate about what they do — are unlikely to stick around for long. Giving your team the time and resources necessary to produce their best work also produces a positive corporate culture.
The risk of delivering a product that falls short. When you rush a product’s development, you risk going to market with a device that fails to meet its claims, requirements, or user needs. If the end-user experience is poor, you’ll wind up with poor sales and bad reviews. In the worst case, you may end up having to recall your product. The negative effects of a recall can often be felt across a company’s product portfolio. There’s very little forgiveness for recalls in the medical device industry. It’s your job to avoid them at all costs.
The risk of squashing innovation. Innovation is a priority for many medical device companies. But it’s unrealistic to expect innovation and speed to go hand in hand. That’s like a baseball coach expecting a player to hit a home run on the first pitch. When product teams are pressed for time, they are forced to be conservative. The more time you cut from the development process, the fewer features your team will have time to design and validate. Move too fast and you risk releasing what is essentially a minimum viable product. In this scenario, imitation and safe plays are the only option. And a very limited one at that.
Medical device companies must find ways to move quickly without removing the brakes entirely. Speed is important, but it’s never worth sacrificing best practices to be first across the finish line.