In a company dependent on developing new products, it’s difficult to commercialize products quickly when the technical and commercial groups are at odds with each other. The problem may seem like it’s due to poor interpersonal communication, but often the more significant issue is an ineffective product development process.
We were engaged by the CEO of a start-up green chemicals company to resolve an impasse between her commercial and technical groups. Conflict between these functions is quite common. The commercial group needed samples quickly so that customers could test the products and start purchasing. The technical group was committed to follow a disciplined process to understand requirements and make sure that samples were developed to the correct specifications. The commercial folks were driven to generate revenue, and the technical folks were driven to develop quality products while preserving resources in a highly constrained environment. The two groups were pointing fingers at each other.
Sitting down with the VPs for both groups, we discovered that they each had different ideas about what was important in the product development process. So the next thing we did was facilitate a conversation among the CEO and the two VPs to clarify desired outcomes, principles, and boundaries for the new product development process. Once these three were on the same page, there was a chance that the members of the departments would become aligned.
Over the course of several months we facilitated the design of a streamlined stage-gate process that addressed needs of the business across both functions. A highly cumbersome and complex process was transformed into one that became well-understood, with clear expectations and roles for everyone participating in each of the different stages. High engagement from both functions led to resolution of conflicts and readiness for implementation. They developed digital tools to track products through the process and created databases to track necessary information to give a clear view of progress for each product. When implemented, the new process resulted in faster and better decisions, moving new products through the process toward commercialization in a more collaborative environment.