New Product Introduction (NPI) is a tough work. PLM vendors scoped NPI or NPID as a solution to prevent delays in new product development and deliveries. In a nutshell, a typical PLM NPI solution is a waterfall project management activity with milestones. Nothing wrong with project managements and delivering of milestones, but here is the thing – although major milestone are clear, things are usually not going according to the plan. The communication between people is not following the original workflow and many NPI solutions tend to be disconnected from realities.
Recent development of agile methodologies are hinting that it might be a better way to organize NPI process. I share some of my thoughts earlier this year – Why PLM should revisit NPI process. The main problem is in fact, too much focus on milestones (launch data and stage gates) and very little focus on capturing right features from customers and insuring all things are well defined. Projects get failed because of different reason – wrong cost estimation or missing parts in Bill of Materials. In a first case you will have way too expensive product and misalignment with retail or sales. In the second case, you product scheduled for holidays will be delivered 2 months later.
New product introduction is a problem for large companies and small teams. But while large manufacturing company can probably recover from unsuccessful product launch, for new hardware project, a failure to deliver on time and with a projected cost can be life or death situation. There are many examples of such failures today on Kickstarter. Hence why Kickstarter projects need PLM.
Bolt, Boston-based VC firm focused on funding hardware startups recently published a series of blog post outlining typical steps in new hardware company development. Navigate here to read more. The following picture gives you some sort of high-level view.
My attention caught two publications on Dragon Innovation blog – Product Manufacturing Lifecycle Overview and Manufacturing Request for Quote Process. Dragon Innovation is a company helping new hardware teams and startups to scale up manufacturing process and succeed in mass production. Learn more to navigate to Dragon Certified program.
Dragon’s blog post explains the importance of planning on each stage of product lifecycle process – 1/ Product design and engineering, 2/ Getting ready for production, 3/ Mass production; 4/ Updating, maintaining, and improving the product during mass production; 5/ Product end of life. There are very good and important tips related to each stage of product lifecycle. It gives you a good framework of topics to follow up. It also highlighted a potential failure point that is not coming from specific product design and technology aspects. It comes from bad organization. I specially like the following passage:
It often happens that the biggest challenges occur not through failure to design or build properly, but from inadequate planning and organization resulting in the need to redesign products, change factories, or scrap material. These challenges can be minimized with realistic planning, taking into account the different stages of the product lifecycle from the manufacturing point of view.
Dragon Innovation’s articles made me think about multiple challenges small manufacturing teams can experience when launching new products. Many of decisions hardware team is taking are multi-dimensional and related to factors like – production batch, component supply and communication with contract manufacturers. Cost is a factor, but the importance of cost is different during the stages of new product introduction. In many situations, coordination is more important than following stage-gate process.
What is my conclusion? To organize work around new product launch is a crazy task. Especially when it is a new hardware project. There are many projects these days raising money and finding a way to manufacture products and scale production. The lifecycle of these projects is different from a typical NPI workflows. They are using a combination of multiple tools to get job done, organize project and process around it. My hunch, not many PLM systems were designed for this type of process. Just my thoughts…
Pictures credit Bolt blog post.