Steps in continuous improvement

The information and knowledge gathered during the benchmarking exercise have to be converted into efforts that will result in improved product

-Benchmarking connections.

Fig. 8.5 A fully integrated NPD function.

-Benchmarking connections.

Fig. 8.5 A fully integrated NPD function.

development performance. Four important steps are (Codling, 1996):

1. Communicate benchmark findings.

2. Adjust goals and develop corrective improvement plan.

3. Implement the corrective improvement plan.

4. Review progress and calibrate.

Communication is important if cooperation and indeed commitment to the proposed changes by individuals, teams and management are to be built. The relation of the benchmark results to the proposed future changes in the product strategy, the product development programme and the individual projects need to create a vision for the future of product development in the company. There needs to be the opportunity for self-assessment and discussions by all involved in product development to build up the improvement plan. The plan is not an edict from top management on the verdict of outside consultants, it is the working together of management and key individuals in product development to create the change in product development. The time frame for the changes and how people will be involved in the changes need to be communicated.

Goals for the product development strategy, programme and individual projects are usually changed or at least adjusted by benchmarking. In particular, the new decisions and outcomes at the various stages in the product development project and for the overall project need to be identified by both top management and the project managers. These outcomes are going to be the goals for the activities in the product development project, and will affect the choice of activities and techniques. The activities and techniques are also going to be changed by the product development efficiency benchmark results, and by the resources made available by top management for the changes. There are two ways of improving performance (Barclay et al., 2001):

• Refinement change: product development is treated as a business process and is continuously reviewed and refined.

• Radical change: a major shift in PD activities and process usually prompted by poor results or a shift in strategy and/or market.

If the refinement change is followed continuously and wisely, the radical change which is costly in resources, people and time, can be avoided.

Implementation is not easy. The action plans need to include descriptions of the proposed action, time scale for introduction, resources required and available, knock-on effects in other areas of product development and in the functional departments, measures of performance of the change, expected outcomes (Coughlan and Brady, 1995). But most important, is to identify the key people and to have them cooperate in developing the action plan and putting it into practice. The management has to recognise the complete plan, identify the staffing and how the changes are to be guided.

Reviewing the progress is important. This means reviews undertaken at recognised intervals not just at the end. Is the plan stalled because of resistance by team members, lack of resources, lack of knowledge or lack of cooperation between the product development team and the functional departments? Are the changes being introduced too fast so that people do not understand what is to be achieved and how to achieve? The benchmarks set to measure the progress need to be achievable with the time and resources available. There will be fundamental differences between projects, and they cannot be set common benchmarks such as reducing the time by six months - easy to achieve in an incremental product development project, often impossible in a major innovation. There needs to be opportunity to make changes to the action plan, if the short-term benchmarks are not being achieved and there is no hope of attaining the long-term benchmarks. Product development is new and creative, so it is not always possible to predict accurately in the action plan.

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