How the product development process is adapting to the new normal — a time of change, information abundance, and quick decision making.
March of 2020 seemed to both accelerate and effectively slow down the world. Everyone quickly tried to adjust to new rules and restrictions. Meanwhile, businesses in all industries felt the ripple effect of slowdowns — even health care professionals were forced to wait for life-saving equipment and supplies.
We certainly can’t say that the world is back to normal, even though for the most part adjustments have been made to account for health risks and allow many companies to restart or ramp up operations. In fact, in their Harvard Business Review article, John P. Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, and Gaurav Gupta argue that “…all indications are that increasing volatility, complexity, and rapid change is the new normal, which requires new ways to drive change within organizations.”
Using technology to adjust
Leaning in on digital tools — especially those around digital communications — has been commonplace over the past year and a half, but companies dealing with product development have additional hurdles to clear. The research and development, design, testing, and production of physical products have been on the cusp of digitization for years, heralded as Industry 4.0, but the worldwide pandemic has pushed the “we’ll definitely do it in the future” idea, into today’s must-have requirement.
In fact, most leaders understand the benefits of digital innovation — 85% of CEOs confirmed that being a digital business is important for success — but many feel that they aren’t positioned to take advantage of the long-term benefits and instead focus on short-term goals (Deloitte, 2021). However, when you’re making decisions for a company that will operate well into the future, then those decisions must be rooted in the realities of the future, not the fears and small-scale needs of today.
The discomfort of pushing forward with innovation isn’t nearly as much of a problem as our fears would lead us to believe. In the product development process, we’ve seen the positive effect that digitizing different aspects of the development and production methods has had — whether that’s 3D printing a part for a fighter jet or accelerating the prototyping stage. And the efficiencies gained are pivotal; the IDC points out that tech investments in Nordic manufacturing have maintained the industry’s economical contributions despite a decline in employees and enterprises.
A digital approach to the product development process
We’re in a state of new normal — the probability of change is the baseline and that means our organizations and processes must become and remain flexible. That is easily achieved through technological advancements in product development. Your organization must be nimble across the board because ultimately you’re not running a finance department, an R&D department, a production team, and so on — you’re running an organization that must be attuned to the needs of its clients and it must deliver.
“The product-development process must integrate input from design, engineering, sales, marketing, procurement, and other functions.” — Rob Loughlin, et al. McKinsey & Company
Thankfully, 3D CAD or other professional specific tools aren’t the only options on your journey to digitize. You can choose to rethink product development as a company effort, bringing all organizational functions under one “roof” into a collaborative PLM process by using innovation platform like 3DEXPERIENCE. This approach side-steps the challenges we’ve all faced during the pandemic — working remotely from different locations, at different times, with different paces, and expecting the same top-notch results.
Digitization for innovation — and other benefits
The evolution of product development into a process that stretches from design, into manufacturing, and even to customer engagement means you develop not only a product that meets your clients’ demands, but also enables collaborative processes and creates efficiencies that can be carried through from project to project.
From routine to innovation
The beauty of the process isn’t that it completely changes how your company works, but rather that it enables you to work better — it enables you to innovate. Rather than spending time on the process of development, stuck in outdated data handling routines, you can afford to get inventive with the product itself. With digital product development processes in place, you’re able to focus on the aspects that set you apart from your competition.
Data led decision making
With digitization teams still have access to the tools they need, but they also have access to information they previously would have had to search for — or worse, to ask and wait for hoping the answer is in the right format and references the most current version of the design, for example.
Data is the driver of all modern business processes, a big pillar of Industry 4.0. Operating in a system that not only allows you to organize your data but also integrates it across departments gives team members opportunities to analyse and utilize the information that will inform a robust development process. Ultimately it ensures that you’ll be operating a smarter, more effective project and company.
Cloud access with solid security
With a cloud based innovation platform, team members from various departments have access to files irrelevant to their physical location — so updates are made with as much speed as the internet connection will allow. Access to information in the system is determined by the role each person is expected to play — meaning that any changes are controlled and traceable. Meanwhile, security is stacked from the application-level to the cloud level and ensures the safety of your work and IP and that of your clients.
Without the constraints of licensing for downloaded software, teams can collaborate and innovate quickly. New ideas can be brainstormed, tested, and pushed further along the development process quicker than before. Ideas that don’t work can be efficiently recalibrated to work. Meanwhile, ideas that get set aside on one project can be saved for future ones. Plus, the ability to collaborate enables your employees to hold a new level of ownership in the products they’re developing and your organization.
Overall, the effect of the new, digital product development process will be immense. The challenges of a global pandemic have shown us that we can adjust quickly when needed, but we have to make the decisions with certainty and speed. Better yet, we should make investments into product development technologies because we understand their long-term benefits, rather than being forced into them due to unforeseen circumstances. When we embrace the uncertainty of change and set our organizations up for flexibility we create a future that operates outside of the limitations we have today.
We must remember that the steps to embrace the new way of product development are just that — steps. When we set our path toward success we’re embracing innovation — and that’s much easier with the right mindset and the digital tools that enable it.