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Drivers of Innovation, Part III: The Right Systems

Innovation starts with the right mindset and is amplified by the right culture, as we discussed in our earlier posts. In this post, we’ll take a look at the third and final driver of innovation: the systems that tie everything together.

To quickly review, the right mindset refers to the vision, mission, or fundamental sense of purpose that motivates and guides the organization. The company founders and executives we interviewed as part of our report on innovation started their business based on this mindset, and it drives everything the organization does.

The right culture refers to the explicit and implicit norms, attitudes, and behaviors governing employee interactions and how work is accomplished. For innovative companies, the right culture starts with hiring people committed to innovation and eager to contribute new ideas. The culture flourishes when such contributions lead to collaboration and continuous improvement at every level of the organization.

To support this culture of collaboration, a company needs the right systems. And when the company creates complex products that can only be delivered through a network of partners, suppliers, and manufacturers, then the need becomes critical.

Communication, Collaboration, and the ‘Single Source of Truth’

Man Reviewing PLM and QMS Systems

One of the biggest challenges companies confront as they and their network of partners grow is making sure that everyone is on the same page. To create a complex product, there needs to be a shared clarity with regard to what is being created. If and when plans change, those changes need to be shared immediately. There also needs to be consistent, immediate communication up and down the supply chain. This communication is essential for collaboration, when designing for manufacturability, for example, as well as to identify potential supply chain disruptions.

In order to facilitate this communication, companies need a single source of truth, that is, a consistent system of record to which all stakeholders have access. This system serves simultaneously as a single system for critical product design information like bills of material (BOMs) comprised of electrical, software, and mechanical components and provides a digital channel for real-time collaboration. Finally, the system also needs to serve as a tracking and reporting system providing leaders and others insight into the status of projects in play.

To illustrate the power and necessity of such a system, consider the work of one of our customers, Lumicell. Lumicell has developed a handheld imaging system that allows surgeons to literally see, in real time, if they have left any cancerous cells behind when removing a tumor. This system relies both on a sophisticated, AI-powered viewer and an injectable contrast dye that fluoresces when it reacts with the tumor cell microenvironment.

To manufacture this complex device, Lumicell relies on a number of partners. While the company does take care of testing and some product assembly, external supply chain partners fabricate the parts and create the contrast dye. “We have several dozen vendors providing different pieces of work for us,” says Ben Locwin, Senior Vice President of Quality. “Keeping that straight is difficult. Having a quality management system (QMS) in place—so that we don’t lose sight of actual, objective reality and replace it with things that we only hope to be true—is critical.”

When you are in a highly regulated industry, knowing “objective reality” isn’t a nice-to-have: It can quite literally be a matter of life and death. Product lifecycle management (PLM) and QMS solutions provide that objective reality -- that “single source of truth” -- by connecting the organization’s internal teams to the broader, symbiotic network of suppliers and coordinating everyone’s actions. To that end, these types of systems can keep everyone on track and provide early warning if issues should arise.

A Deeper Look at What Enables Innovation

These three elements—the right mindset, the right culture, and the right systems—are all critical drivers of innovation. To learn more, we invite you to take a look at our recent report, The New Product Innovation Paradigm: Evolving Products to Platforms in a Changing World.

In the meantime, consider these questions about your existing systems:

  • How effective is your organization in collaborating with suppliers and manufacturing partners?
  • Are you confident in your company’s ability to identify and address supply chain disruptions, manufacturing concerns, and quality issues in a timely manner?
  • Do the systems you use for sharing information with those inside and outside your organization serve as a “single source of truth,” or are they just part of the picture?