Getting a new product from the earliest concept stages onto store shelves is a multi-step undertaking, with every element of the new item becoming a potential productivity roadblock. Time to market is the prime metric to determine organizations’ relative success at finalizing their latest offerings. Looking critically at the new product development (NPD) workflow is an essential practice for any organization that wants to become more efficient overall.
The best way to improve NPD is to combine technology and everyday practices. Today, these two concepts are closely related. Businesses that don’t have adequate technological tools to enable collaboration and information sharing may find their product development processes are caught up in unnecessary manual steps, each of which is a potential source of human error. Companies that upgrade their NPD processes through a combination of tech upgrades and proactive practice changes may find they’re getting products to market far more quickly than under their old systems.
What Are Some Challenges in New Product Development?
NPD consists of multiple interlocking steps – eight distinct phases, according to TechTarget – and each one is a potential source of failure. Getting a product from its initial concept to a form that consumers can purchase is rife with challenges. The exact approach to ideation, approval, testing and feedback gathering will change depending on the type and size of company in question, but the basics remain the same. No item can enter the marketplace until its design has been finalized and there is a solid production supply chain in place.
Each site in the NPD process introduces a new set of approvals, each from a different source. When screening fresh ideas internally, companies eliminate the impossible or unlikely and promote the concepts most likely to become successful, profitable ventures. Testing these concepts with focus groups is a way to get a consumer perspective. More in-depth research follows, and elements such as packaging and marketing materials receive their own tests and analysis.
“It’s easy to see how any step could become a productivity bottleneck.”
Since all those steps involve getting a sign-off on the product, it’s easy to see how any of them could become a productivity bottleneck. Sometimes, a new concept simply fails to pass muster, with a test or focus group review proving the item isn’t feasible. In other cases, the issue comes down to the systems companies are using to manage their NPD workflows. Whether the barriers come from company culture or technology, a lack of communication may derail a project and stall the product lifecycle. Such a delay may prove costly, as it puts off any profits from releasing the item on the market and can mean a competitor gets to market before you which could result in lost consumers.
How Can You Streamline your New Product Development Process?
When considering improvements to the workflow process, your organization should focus on each individual step of NPD, as each can be so different. Looking at the issue of time to market from a top-down perspective may mean missing the ground-level issues that are really creating delays.
Within each stage of development, you should focus on creating processes that are well-defined, repeatable and minimize the chance of human error occurring. Today, this will often involve a heavy dose of automation and the latest tech-based communication improvements, including increased use of cloud-computing and centralized information.
In many parts of NPD, your company may be sticking with functions that are based on outdated methods. Removing these steps and replacing them with highly optimized options may be the decision that guides your strategy to a new standard of effectiveness. For example, if a review and approval process is based on trading files by email, your employees may be making it difficult to track and manage their sign-offs and feedback. This creates a lack of accountability and visibility and introduces a greater risk of human error and delays in time to market.
Example: Artwork Management in NPD
When searching for examples of how an individual step of NPD can be responsible for major bottlenecks, you can look to Artwork Management. It’s clear that this step has to be completed to satisfaction before an item can be released. A 99designs overview of packaging described the many essential functions fulfilled by product artwork: From listing ingredients, use directions and warnings required for compliance purposes to acting as a place to display branded imagery and marketing copy, items’ packages serve numerous roles.
This variety of uses means many people have to sign off on artwork before it is finalized. Employees in the supply chain must ensure the files will print correctly. Compliance and legal stakeholders need to make sure the legally required information is in place and accurate. Marketing and sales team members will tweak the logos and written copy, potentially with extensive input from focus groups and surveys.
Communication needs may extend beyond the walls of the organization. Industrial Packaging called for close communication between the various parties involved in the packaging approval, including suppliers and packagers. Printing handled at another location – or by a third party – necessitates more trading of in-progress artwork files. While Industrial Packaging also recommended cutting the approval workflow to the minimum number of parties, there are some steps that simply cannot be eliminated.
“When your workflow management approach is based on outdated technology, slowdowns may result frequently.”
If any of the handoffs between internal or external teams are delayed or result in an unnecessary duplication of key files, it’s easy to see how poor Artwork Management can harm time to market. When your workflow management approach is based on outdated technology with practices to match, these slowdowns may result frequently.
What Is the Role of Artwork Management Software?
Modern Artwork Management software is the key in ensuring your teams can complete products’ packaging design and approval steps without miscommunication or delay. This technological solution to the age-old problem of NPD slowdowns is an example of the type of change needed across your internal processes.
When your team has access to a cloud-based system that automatically logs changes to artwork files and sign-offs on those proofs, older methods such as emailing spreadsheets are no longer necessary parts of new product development. Inconvenient methods that have held on through sheer inertia or the lack of an obvious alternative can finally leave your workflow. You’ll realize the value the change has created when packaging concepts clear approval more quickly than was previously possible.