The April 2007 edition of the Harvard Business Review contained the article “Preparing for the perfect product launch” by James P. Hackett, President and CEO of Steelcase. Hackett does a wonderful job of explaining the troubles that many organizations face when developing and launching new products and services – failing to adequately think out and plan their strategies. He points out that in one of his organization’s less successful product launches, that their “concept was a breakthrough, but the development process” broke down. He attributes this in large part to the fact that they did not fully think through and test the entire process – every one was focused on “doing” and had not rigorously scouted out “the territory before we sprinted down the execution path.”
This is very common in most organizations. We often notice a trend or base our opinions on a finite number of facts and – in our goal to introduce a new product to the market first – we mobilize resources to develop and launch that new product. While not realizing, until it is too late, that our facts were flawed, because we did not do the proper due diligence in advance. Often we subjectively find facts that support our business plans, rather than letting the facts determine what the correct decision should be.
Employing complexity theory and critical thinking skills, Hackett developed the following four phase process for new product development that he and his team implemented at Steelchase:
1. Think – deeply consider the problem or opportunity
a. Have every member of the team consider the problem independently.
b. Ask the correct questions about the problem.
c. Divide the topic among the team members, read and research as much as possible.
d. Employ your team’s network to talk to the smartest people that you know about this topic.
e. Document all of your discoveries.
2. Set the point of view – Develop a specific approach to the problem
a. Have the team collegially and open-mindedly discuss all of the options generated.
b. As a team, define the mission and what constitutes success
c. Assign a member of the team to “own the point of view.”
d. Once the point of view is set, stay the course.
3. Plan implementation – develop the launch strategy and test it
a. Make sure that the mission is understandable to non-team members.
b. Determine the role that stakeholders will play in the implementation.
c. Practice the plan so implementation runs smoothly.
4. Implement – they implement the strategy
a. Elect a spokesperson to be the voice of the company.
b. Stay true to your measures of success.
c. Give credit liberally and where it is due.
Now I can all ready hear most people saying that they do this currently. It is important to point out that in this process, Steelchase does not cut corners, they provide employees with the time to fully think out and research new ideas. They fully engulf themselves in any and all data available on the issue. Once they are done with the thinking phase, then they move on to develop their solution to the problem. Another key difference is that Steelcase has made this part of their company’s culture. Hackett feels so passionately about this process that he personally teaches it to his employees. He believes that it is more effective coming from him than a trainer or consultant that he could hire.
As busy as we all are it is much too easy to “go-go-go” and “do-do-do.” It is much more difficult to stop, and consider all of the facts. Test out your theories. Create your plan and practice it. And then implement your plan. This is an enormous culture shift to the “reactionaries” who love to shoot from the hip. But the long-term benefits to the organization are tremendous.