IN PRACTICE

Theoretical versus practical: new product development monitoring

TThere are many factors that go into configuring and implementing software solutions. One of the most important involves paying attention to user experience.

How easy is the experience for users such as suppliers? What is their reward for engaging? Are they being asked to provide chapter and verse about a product with seemingly little to no justification?

In the latter situation, suppliers would feel the task involves a large amount of work and no clear benefit.

That is the test that goes on at user level every day when making decisions to complete tasks within solutions we deploy. Very often the success of an implementation is driven by getting the balance correct.

Over the course of many years working within private brands grocery retail, I have seen this battle regularly lost, especially when it comes to product development.

The drive for improvements in time-to-market is a huge focus for private brand retailers as they go through the process of their own brand evolution.

The classic path to failure often looks like this:

1. Engaging external consultants that assist the retail organisation in mapping and then optimising the different workflow routes for product development from packaging tweaks to true range innovation.

2. Mapping the workflows to the computer systems at a very granular basis to in theory get the maximum level of detail of the current product development loading and status at any one time

3. Training the users in the fine detail and workload needed to track the detailed process steps. This can often involve tracking individual product lines, but can certainly involve over 20 process steps per workflow, with rigid rules!

4. After a few months the systems run into disrepute due to out-of-date information. This is caused by users finding it too much work to track this level of detail, and/or the rules being too overbearing in the rush to get products to shelf.

5. The reports cannot be trusted, and the software is seen as failing the organisation.

The failure is all due to the lack of recognition of the practicalities of the significant business change process being put in place.

An own brand retail product development process is highly complex, involving the interaction of multiple partners with cost, product performance, packaging, brand, marketing, sustainability and legal elements that often overlap.

There is a time constraint that hangs over the process, increasing the pressures to find solutions to non-standard situations.

For me, the answer has always been to be very careful not to demand too much too soon, and to settle for initially creating much higher level / less complex workflows (less than 10 steps) with guidelines for processes, rather than building locked gates. The other key compromise is to start by tracking at project level (as opposed to product).

Users are more likely to follow these strategies and can cope with the reporting of the status of the product development process. They also then start to see the benefits of the tracking process within the reporting. The next stage is to set up ongoing product development process check-ins to learn from the implementation and begin to increase the levels of detail, where everyone agrees it is needed (e.g. within the artwork workflow).

I have seen enough examples in my time, to guarantee that this more practical approach for a New Product Development cycle with improved times always wins out over the theoretical route.

Jan Fura

Jan Fura

Jan Fura is a highly experienced IT retail solutions consultant and business analyst, having worked for over 30 years in software solutions delivery. His work has included developing, designing, selling and implementing award winning B2B software into many leading international retailers including Walmart, Asda, Walgreens, Tesco, Safeway and Waitrose. As a founding director of private brand grocery retail specialist Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB), Jan is involved in ensuring the business continues to assist private brand owners in delivering the growth and profitability they are targeted with. Jan is a passionate advocate of the Unified Brand Experience philosophy and has applied it as a game changer within his US client base. He can also speak with authority on how retailers and suppliers should work together in dealing with issues such as compliance and clean label.

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