The responsibility for introducing new products to markets normally lies within the Marketing department. However, before a product is ready for launch, there are many steps that should be followed to ensure a successful internal as well as external launch. The role of the New Product Introduction (NPI) Manager begins with a new product idea and continues throughout the development of the new product all the way to its commercialization. The NPI Manager occupies a very important leadership role within an organization. In order to fulfill the role well, the NPI Manager must be an excellent communicator, a great project manager, have business acumen and truly be invested in the success of the new product.
An Excellent Communicator
An organization is divided into departments each with its own tasks and responsibilities: Accounting takes care of transactions; I.T. manages and supports hardware and software platforms; R&D engineers new solutions; and so forth. Everyone is busy and everyone needs to get their job done. It is very easy for an organization, even a small one, to function in silos and to forget to communicate across departments. A new product idea requires the alignment of the whole organization and tasks must be coordinated for a successful product introduction. When the Executive team sets the strategy and decides that a new product is to be developed, the whole organization needs to get on board. That is when the NPI Manager steps in and along with departmental heads, organizes the NPI Team which should include one or more representatives from all departments that will be impacted in one way or another by the new product. It takes good communication and leadership skills to engage everyone and get their buy-in. The NPI Manager does not normally have direct reports but is responsible for the process and must answer to the Executives about progress, issues or delays.
A Great Project Manager
Once the NPI Team has been selected, a first meeting must be set (“kick off”) to introduce the team to the new product. A Market Requirement Document (“MRD” – I will discuss the MRD in a future post but in a nutshell it describes the product, the target market, the features and functionality) and a Business Analysis (costs, forecasted revenues and break-even point) should be reviewed. All team members must be invited to comment, ask questions and challenge any assumptions made. The NPI Manager should Chair this meeting and engage everyone to participate. The meeting must end with precise tasks, responsibilities and time frames assigned to various parties. The NPI manager must publish the NPI project schedule and update it regularly. She must follow up on a regular basis with team members and I normally assign regular weekly meetings for this purpose. Outside of the weekly meetings, I believe it is necessary to discuss one-on-one with those having critical responsibilities to understand their challenges and offer any help possible. The NPI Manager will be successful if she does her best to make each member successful.
This relates to being sensitive to what makes good business-sense. In the end, a business has to make money. It also has to be productive and conduct activities that fit its core strength. The NPI Manager should be a good judge of what makes good business sense for its organization and for the project. For example, if the developers are spending too much time on an activity that is delaying the project and the activity is not critical as it could easily be outsourced, the NPI Manager must realize this fact and be prepared to raise the issue in a constructive manner. The NPI Manager must take the initiative to look into how much it would cost to outsource the activity, be able to understand the business analysis and see the financial impact of outsourcing the activity. If this task is too daunting for the NPI Manager to accomplish alone, he should have the ability to enroll team members to help.
Success of the Product
Finally, the NPI Manager must truly be invested in the success of the new product. This means that by the time the product launches, all internal teams from Finance to Customer Service fully understand what they need to do to support the new product: Marketing has positioned the new product properly and campaigns are underway, sales people have been fully trained and have all the materials they require to present to customers, technical support is ready to receive customer calls, the product can be provisioned and billed! The NPI Manager’s role does not end there. Products are never fully developed. Based on customer feedback, the team will have to go back to the drawing board to make some tweaks and needed improvements.