10 Rules for Great Product Development |

10 Rules for Great Product Development

“Why is my New Product Development pipeline too slow, too expensive and lacking innovation?”

I get this question from frustrated leaders in the larger Orthopedic companies. I thought I would share the formulas to the OrthoStreams community that have worked for me. Here are 10 specific rules you can use to help your R&D teams execute at a higher level.

Note: these rules are for the larger orthopedic companies, not startups.


Tiger’s 10 Rules

Rule #1 – Match team strength to project complexity

I often see too little horsepower for big strategic product development, which leads to projects that go nowhere.  Draw a matrix, and put all of your projects into one of the four quadrants (Complex or “Me too”  by  Line Addition or Strategic)

The rule of thumb is:

  • “Light Weight” Teams are suited for projects that are both “me too” products + line addition
  • “Medium Weight” Teams are suited for projects that are complex, but only a line addition
  • “Medium Weight” Teams are suited for projects that are “me too”, but also strategic
  • “Heavy Weight” Teams are suited for projects that are both complex + strategic

Rule #2 – Separate project management from the project responsibilities

There is a reason why CPAs aren’t Artists and why Artists aren’t CPAs. Please let the creative, interactive engineers (right brain) design products and let the organized score-keeper engineers (left brain) manage the project timelines and resources.  Without a separate Project Management function, all project coordination falls to the Development team and they are not the best trained, nor the best personality type to drive this work.


Rule #3 – Go deep with project definition and planning

Everyone wants to get started on a new project, but it is critical for the entire team to spend quality time up-front defining the project.  Avoid the temptation to just start working.  Days, and I really mean days of planning should be used to define the following project elements:

  • Project purpose
  • Business and project goals and objectives
  • Scope and expectations
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Assumptions and constraints
  • Known risks
  • Project management approach
  • Ground rules
  • Project budget and timeline
  • User requirements (if available)
  • The conceptual starting designs (if available)
  • Communication processes
  • Metrics

This up-front planning time will pay dividends on the back end of the project. Don’t skip it.    


Rule #4 – Build a smart project plan

Every project plan is unique.  A clever timeline and plan can make all the difference.  I have seen wins using these four approaches:

  • Find ways to eliminate risks as early as possible in the project –> prototype critical features first
  • Focus on parallel path opportunities –> these are huge time savings in the parallel approach
  • Focus on the springs not the rods (springs are flexible time areas, rods are fixed time tasks)
  • Get 100% Team buy-in on the plan –> promotes ownership and dedication

Rule #5 – Fail fast and cheaply

The best teams find ways to eliminate early design ideas quickly and cheaply.  Why make a fully function prototype in titanium that takes 8 weeks, when you can get a plastic “rapid prototype” of every separate critical design feature in a day?  If you have 10 ideas, eliminate half them early and free up critical resources later in the project.  Do not carry ALL of your ideas deep into the project as it will become a drag on resources later.  This is well illustrated in The Marshmallow Challenge.


Rule #6 – Cross pollinate

Product Development team members are usually physically separated in different buildings or spread out in different departments.  The most productive teams cross-pollinate and spend time in each others world.

  • Spend time face-to-face and get into each others shoes
  • Experience the conference call from the “other side” – it feels different
  • Leaders must have on-site visits at other offices
  • Share best practices & mistakes
  • Rotate team members (if possible)
  • Standardize processes and communication at all locations
  • Respect cultural differences

Rule #7 – Take advantage of collaborative tools

Hey, wakeup…  its 2019!  Why do teams insist on using old tools like email, PPT & spreadsheets to communicate?   There are a myriad of tools available at your disposal – HuddleBasecampOnehubDropBoxWebexGoToMeeting & Skype, out there.  Use these tools for:

  • Visibility of project status
  • Workspaces
  • Document sharing
  • Virtual meetings
  • Web conferencing
  • Whiteboarding
  • Project management
  • Dashboard
  • File sharing

Rule #8 – Recognize the wall

This is a big Achilles heel.  Teams must learn how to say “Uncle”!  Most project teams hit “the Wall” and don’t even know they are there.  And if they see the wall, they believe that asking for help is “counter-intuitive” to their mission (after all, the Engineers are supposed to be the problem solvers).

Here are 5 ways get over the “the Wall” and get back on track

  1. Go back and redefine the “Unmet Need” or purpose of the product
  2. Add or borrow the missing technical expertise to solve a complex problem
  3. Eliminate some of the design variables to better navigate a solution
  4. Re-engage the Design Surgeon on the team
  5. Add “Weight” to the Team if it is under-resourced (see Rule #1)

Rule #9 – Revisit project priorities

You must regularly challenge the list of new product development projects. Don’t take  the road to Abilene, challenge the team along the way.

  • Meet every 6 months and take a disciplined approach
  • All stakeholders should be involved – PD, PM, Marketing, Sales, Clinical, Research, Operations, Surgeons
  • Prioritize & Rank based on factors such as potential revenue, strategic implication, competitive threat, likelihood of success, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop a project
  • Step back and determine if the right projects in the pipeline to meet the company’s goals
  • Ask if the chosen projects are planned sufficiently to launch on time and produce the needed sales.

Rule #10 – Measure things that matter, like ROI2

How is our Product Development performance?  Amazingly most CEOs never ask this question.  And  the ones who do, use the wrong metrics – eg: sales, number of product launches, or R&D spending versus gross sales.

I recommend ROI2 (or ROII) which is Return on Innovation Investment.  ROI2 is calculated by comparing the profits of new product sales to the R&D expenses that were consumed in creating the new products. The focus of ROI2 is not only to determine how well a company is turning its new product investments into additional profit, but also how efficient it is in its R&D spending. Go back 10 years and calculate your ROI2. ———————–

Tiger has lead R&D Teams for 30 years at Smith and Nephew, Sulzer Orthopedics, Wright Medical, NovaLign, Active Implants, and Ellipse Technologies with over 50 new implant and instrument systems brought into the marketplace.