Stop The Madness! A Rational Approach To New Product Development

IT can learn a great deal from medical doctors
IT can learn a great deal from medical doctors

The IT field can learn a great deal about new product development from other industries.This time we’re going to learn from the big drug firms – they make excellent teachers. If you think about it, we’ve got a lot in common: both industries have to make big bets on unproven projects with the hopes that they will help make the company lots of money. Sometimes it works, more often than not it doesn’t.

The pharmaceutical business views all projects as belonging to one of two different groups: a truth-seeking group and a success-seeking group. The truth-seeking group of projects is focused on evaluating novel new product possibilities and weeding out the bad bets. The success-seeking group of projects is focused on making those products that have been cleared for development as profitable as possible. Hmm, can anyone think of an IT project that wasn’t automatically thrown into the success-seeking group without first spending some time in the truth-seeking group?

Eli Lilly has used this two-step approach to manage their new product development since 2001. What they’ve discovered is that it has been able to deliver products at 2x the speed and for about 1/3 of the cost. However, you never get anything for free. There are some side effects to using this two-step strategy:

  • It will postpone the start up of successful projects.
  • However, at the same time it will reduce the risk of failure in an IT environment in which the cost of development is high and the impact of a failure would also be high. If you work in an IT department that has had a lot of project failures, then this is an approach that can help you to absorb a great deal of risk early on in the project.

The sole purpose of an IT project in the truth-seeking group is to reduce the uncertainty about an IT project’s ability to deliver what the company is looking for as quickly and effectively as possible. Two types of IT errors can happen to a project that is in this group:

  • Managers can ignore evidence that is telling them that the IT project won’t be able to deliver what it was designed to.
  • The project is killed early before it has a chance to prove that it can deliver what the customer is looking for.

What this means is that for a product management team that is supposed to successfully launch new profitable products, they must avoid making both of these errors. Good luck killing bad products early while not killing good products too early! Using the two-group method allows a new way of thinking to be used to evaluate IT products. The teams can perform experiments on the products in the truth-seeking group in order to determine if they will be able to solve the end user’s problems. The teams need to be rewarded when an IT project in this group fails — they’ve just saved the company a great deal of money and frustration .

The problem with putting all IT projects automatically into the success-seeking group lies with us product mangers. Once we are assigned a product, we will use every trick in our book to gather whatever materials, facts, or figures are needed to show that we are still on track at each and every status review. Until it’s too late, nobody will ever know that our product is doomed for failure.

Using a two group approach to IT products will allow an IT department to implement a new metric: “speed to failure”. If a product is going to fail, then you’d like it to do so a quickly as possible. This type of approach to IT product development is not just another type of process reengineering. Rather it’s a whole new way of thinking that can reduce the risk associated with IT products while at the same time improving an entire IT department’s productivity.