Executing the Project

This phase forms the heart of the innovation process. Its inputs are clear strategic concept and some initial ideas for realizing the concept. Its outputs are both a developed innovation and prepared market (internal or external) ready for final launch. This fundamentally is a challenge in project management under uncertain conditions. The issue is not simply of ensuring that certain activities are completed in particular sequence and delivered against a time and cost budget . The lack of knowledge at the outset and the changing picture as new knowledge is brought in during development means that a high degree of flexibility is required in terms of overall aims as subsidiary activities and sequencing . Much of the process is about weaving together different knowledge sets coming from groups and individuals with widely different functional and disciplinary backgrounds. And the project may involve groups who are widely distributed in organizational geographical terms – often belonging to completely separate organizations. Consequently the building and managing of a project team, of communicating a clear vision and project plan, of maintaining momentum innovations etc are not trivial tasks.

One way of representing the development stage is as a funnel, moving gradually from broad exploration to narrow focused problem solving and hence to final and successful innovations. Unfortunately the apparent rational progress implied in this model is often not borne out in practice, instead various problems emerge, such as the lack of input (or sometimes too much input) for key functions, lack of communication between functions, conflicting goals etc.

It is during this stage that most of the time, cost and commitment are incurred and it is characterized by a series of problem solving loops dealing with expected and unexpected difficulties in the technical and market areas. Although we can represent it as a parallel process, in practice effective management of this stage requires close interaction between marketing related and technical activities. For example, product development involves a number of functions, ranging from marketing through design and development to manufacturing quality assurance and finally back to marketing. Differences in the tasks which each of these functions performs in the training and experience of those working there and in the timescales and operating pressures under which they work all mean that each of these areas becomes characterized by a different working culture. Functional divisions of this kind are often exaggerated by location where R&D and design activities are grouped away from the mainstream production and sales operations in some cases on a completely different site.

Separation of this kind can lead to a number of problems in the overall development process.

Distancing the design function from the marketplace can lead to inappropriate designs which do not meet the real customer needs, or which are over engineered embodying a technically sophisticated and elegant solution which exceeds the actual requirements (and may be too expensive as a consequence). This kind of phenomenon is often found in Industries which have a tradition of defense contracting where work has been carried out on a cost plus basis involving projects which have emphasized technical design features rather than, commercial or manufacturability criteria.

Similarly the absence of a close link with manufacturing means that much of the information about the basic make ability of a new design either does not get back to the design area at all or else does so at a stage too late to make a difference or to allow the design to be changed. There are many cases in which manufacturing has wrestled with the problem for making or assembling a product which requires complex manipulation but where minor design change for example relocation of a screw hole would considerably simplify the process. In many cases such an approach has led to major reductions in the number of operations necessary simplifying the process and often, as an executive making it more susceptible to the automation and further improvement in control quality and throughout.

Source: Managing Innovation