Innovation has become a key concern for many business executives; everyone wants to do more of it, but few are quite sure how to. So how can large established companies effectively sustain corporate innovation? And how can they deliver innovation to market faster than ever before?

In our previous blog post, 5 Key Ingredients to Fueling a Successful Product Launch, we looked back over our client’s advances and identified five key ingredients to fueling a successful product launch. In our next series of blog posts, we will take a closer look at those five key areas and examine in more detail how they can improve innovation processes and support.

Part 1: Collaboration and Communication

Collaboration and effective communication are the first areas we identified as key to a company’s success. Product innovation is a multidisciplinary, cross-functional effort and requires engagement from a wide range of departments, from Technical, Sales, Marketing, Operations, and so forth. It is the collaboration from a variety of disciplines that leads to effectiveness and makes innovation possible.

Involving more people in this process, and doing so effectively, is one of the best ways to improve quality and accelerate the pace of a project. Alan Mulally, former Executive Vice President of Boeing and then CEO of Ford Motor Company said when describing the development of the company’s new 777 aircraft, “We can’t make a better airplane unless we can figure how to get everybody’s knowledge included in the design.”

Product innovation is very much a team effort, and the lack of a true cross-functional project team is one of the reasons many new-product projects fail. There is a strong correlation between an effective cross-functional team and a faster cycle time.

In his book ‘Winning at New Products’, Dr. Robert G. Cooper says, “Do a post-mortem to any bungled new product project and invariably you’ll find each functional area doing its own piece of the project, with very little communication between players and functions – a fiefdom mentality – and no real commitment of individual players to the project… Many studies concur that how the project team is organized and functions strongly influences project outcomes.”

Many corporations rely on collaboration with outside partners, be they start-ups, academic institutions, or consumer groups in order to accelerate innovation. Often, there will be new members joining the team at different stages of the process, as well as others leaving. But how do you get a diverse group of individuals from various departments, perhaps even different organisations, and turn them into an effective team? This is when communication is key; collaboration cannot happen without effective communication. 

It is also imperative to have a clearly assigned team of players, all with clearly assigned roles and commitments to the project, with a team leader who oversees the project from beginning to end. It is also vital to make the project team ultimately accountable for their achievement.

It is evident among best innovators that the project leader remains responsible from idea to launch, with key team players remaining in the project from beginning to end. Dr. Cooper also highlights that, “Another best practice is a central shared-information system for project team members. This usually means a centralized communications and IT system that permits sharing of project information and allows several team members to work concurrently on the same document, even across functions, locations and countries… Using IT to support innovation process is a particularly strong facet of best performers, with almost two-thirds having such an IT system.”

Cross-functional cooperation is critical. It is essential that project managers and team members have a shared knowledge base where they can engage, communicate and share across the entire innovation pipeline. Cross-functional collaboration and high-quality information collection ensures that everyone has access to the most up-to-date information and resources, maintained and updated in real-time.

Not only does this mean that project managers and team members can quickly and easily share key documents, spreadsheets and project plans; It also means goals are clearer and there is greater visibility or strategic objectives and priorities. Thus, encouraging effective collaboration and accelerating new product development.

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Related Articles:

5 Key Ingredients to Fueling a Successful Product Launch

How to Prioritize Effectively

Managing Risk in New Product Development

The Importance of Appropriate Governance when Launching a New Product

Speed is Everything: Accelerating New Product Development