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Eliminate Barriers to Innovation Part IV

Connecting Products and Projects Helps Streamline Regulatory Compliance

This is the fourth and final part of our series on how to break down the barriers to product innovation. We have demonstrated how to connect disparate product teams with a single source of truth to simplify collaboration, streamline new development, and keep up with engineering changes. Now we will discuss tips on how to create and maintain a proactive project management operation and meet new product development and product introduction (NPDI) regulations.

Earlier in this series, we cited the numerous barriers to innovation and product development including distributed teams and global supply chains, complex regulations, and a connected world of IoT devices. Of these areas, manufacturers especially struggle with managing distributed teams and complying with a myriad of regulations. 

Any product that reaches the market today has likely been designed, tested, and produced by hundreds or even thousands of internal team members and supply chain partners. If stacked on top of each other, the names would resemble the long list of credits at the end of a movie.  

Everyone involved in developing a product strives to deliver it on time and on budget according to a determined list of requirements and a specific sequence. But what happens when those teams are scattered around the world, working in different time zones and divisions with additional outside suppliers and manufacturers? How do you keep everyone on the same page when changes are made during design and production? 

Keeping tasks and product records on the same page

To drive NPDI effectively and on schedule, impacted product teams must manage every project deliverable in context to the product design, which includes feasibility testing, prototyping, and strategic sourcing. This process includes tracking multiple tasks and information from all of these areas to keep teams aligned. However, the transition from NPD and NPI can be complicated by teams that capture and track their deliverables in manual or disparate systems.

In traditional project management settings, managers usually create and assign schedules, tasks, and milestones with their teams for feedback, updates, and adjustments, which they record and resubmit for additional reviews by the same teams. This continual loop of sharing and collecting feedback is time-consuming, inefficient, and prone to produce difficulties and failures.

Sometimes project managers leverage spreadsheets or file-sharing applications like Google, Box, or Dropbox. And while these applications are easy to share and show feedback, they are disconnected from full product design deliverables comprised of bills of materials (BOMs), engineering changes, drawings, specifications, requirements, and quality management records. These disconnected spreadsheets and systems fall out of sync quickly with product and quality records.

Putting it all together

That’s why it’s so important to connect product records and NPDI processes with project management deliverables to give the entire product team complete visibility and instant context. With this approach, every stakeholder can collaborate, track, and update the project deliverables without researching disconnected systems. Teams can click on deliverables and see related documents, design changes, and product configuration in seconds.

Keeping so many teams, from engineering to operations to supply chain partners, on the same page is critical to speed NPI processes. Using a single product lifecycle management (PLM) solution connected to projects and product information is the best way to reduce confusion, delays, and even design issues. And more importantly, having a single source of truth for products and related projects improves the product design, speed product launches, and customer satisfaction.

Tackling regulatory compliance

If dispersed teams and disjointed project management resources weren’t enough of a challenge, companies face a growing list of regulatory directives from the  Food and Drug Administration (FDA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and environmental safety standards like RoHS, REACH, WEEE, and conflict minerals.  Failure to meet these regulations and standards can delay or derail product launches and result in public warnings, fines, and even company shutdowns. 

Even minor regulatory compliance issues can significantly delay product introductions, forcing companies to return to the drawing board. Product redesigns can involve many teams and take longer to resolve when issues are discovered later in the product release process.

Organizations often rely on quality and regulatory assurance teams to drive validation processes that monitor and comply with regulations and standards. Quality, engineering, and production teams collaborate most effectively when working in a single, connected system.  By maintaining regulatory compliance information in context with the entire product design and project plans, today’s complex product companies are positioned to pass audits and avoid unnecessary delays throughout the NPDI process.

And that wraps up our series. Hopefully, this was helpful to all you innovators out there. As long as you and others in the manufacturing industry continue to contend with a convergence of mechanical, electrical, and software designs, it’s important that we all share best practices and lessons learned to improve NPDI and deliver great, compliant products to market fast. 

Do you use different systems today for quality management, project management, or product management of parts, BOMs, and engineering change processes? We would love to know what works for you and whether you have any lessons learned to share.