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Decreasing Product Development Lead Time

Client: US affiliate of a large pharmaceutical manufacturer

The situation: Our client had an elaborate product development team in place. Led by the Product Team Lead, a multi-function core team supported several functional sub-teams, which created the product development plan and worked with the functional departments to execute it. A portfolio governance body reviewed the product portfolio and allocated necessary resources.

The problem: While our client had an elaborate product development team structure, the teams were not working well together. Plans were often created in silos with updates occurring after the fact, conflicts in priorities between functions, and product teams were left unresolved for too long. There was significant overlap between some of the functional sub-teams and the Product team, resulting in wasted time and effort. Functional departments often made development decisions without consulting the Product teams and there was little alignment with the development plans and priorities laid out by the product team. This overlap resulted in wasted work and wasted time, as teams struggled to align after the fact. The delay in product development lead times was costing our client millions of dollars.

What we did: Working with a cross-functional team consisting of representatives from different teams and functions, Harmony Management Consulting revisited the roles and rationales of both the core team and the sub-teams. We focused on the role of the Product Team Lead to determine what key responsibilities, skills, and attributes were required for that position. Upon completion, we proposed a new, simplified team structure with processes and roles that reduced overlaps. Additionally, we created a new “playbook” for product development teams to better identify what good interactions between teams and functions look like.

The result: After implementing our changes, the client experienced a simpler, more effective team structure and product development process with little overlap and shorter lead times.

Analysis: The design and structure of product development builds an intrinsic tension between the priorities of the Product teams and those of the associated functions. The functions own the resources that will be deployed in development and thereby own the execution of the development process. The Product teams influence the allocation of these resources by presenting the long-term case for their product, its expected return, and the risk of failure. Given the number of teams, functions, resources, budgets, and emotions involved, this can make for a messy situation that is hard to manage on the ground.

However, the ultimate success of the product development process depends largely on how well the system is able to dynamically adjust and prioritize limited resources on the most promising products. The portfolio governance committee—which makes the final call on how the resources are allocated—plays a major role in providing direction. So, too, do the members of the functional sub-teams, who are members of both the Product team structure and the functions, and are therefore in a pivotal position to support ongoing communication and rebalancing between the involved stakeholders.

The Product Team Lead is central to this entire process and needs to be a leader and a negotiator. Armed with a thorough grasp of the promise of the product, this person needs to work closely with the Portfolio Governance Committee and functional heads to secure the necessary resources. It is crucial that the top talent in the company is assigned to this role and that once there, this person is coached and completely supported by company leadership. Even the best and brightest will go through a personal transition of their own before they are effective in this challenging role.

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