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How to double your innovation-to-market speed!

Have you ever thought about what it would take to increase your speed to market, or create a fast track process for key projects?  What if I told you there was a way to double or even triple your speed from concept to customer?  Would you be willing to do what it takes to make that happen?

The pace of innovation is increasing drastically in the foodservice industry, with many restaurant companies launching dozens and dozens of new menu items each year.  This requires a large funnel of ideas in an innovation pipeline to manage, with teams working on multiple projects and categories of innovation, as well as the downstream work for a large amount of supplier support.  On top of that, companies and teams are getting leaner, making your team’s time all that more valuable.  It is important now more than ever to ensure you’re working on the right projects and getting them done quickly.

Many product development processes are long and regimented processes with gates, approvals, product reviews, revisions, more product reviews, sell-ins, status meetings, and seemingly endless analysis.  When many companies talk about speed to market, they think this means doing everything they already do, compressed and faster but with the same quality.  I actually had someone once tell me “we need to move much faster, but we can’t skip any steps or make any mistakes”.  Those seem like competing objectives to me!

Whether you’re a supplier or a brand, there are ways to focus on what’s important, remove unnecessary work that doesn’t drive value, minimize risk and significantly speed up your process.  It takes focus, dedicating teams to key objectives, and thinking much differently than your traditional process.

Think software

For many years software and tech companies have been using sprint methodology to drastically speed up their innovation to market cycle.  Think about it - if software used that same old 12-24 month food innovation-to-market process that many of us use, they would be out of business.  They get to market quickly with the features that drive the most value to the consumer and then build from there. One great book on the subject is Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (Sutherland, Sutherland, 2014).

Below I’ll share some of the ways we instituted principles from scrum to improve the innovation-to-market process on teams I’ve been a part of.

Dedicated teams

This is incredibly difficult!  In many food and beverage product development teams you could have 25 projects going on, how could you possibly assign only one project so someone?  Well think of it this way, if you move 25 projects along 1 inch at a time, you move slowly.  If you do one thing and focus completely on it until it is done, you will complete more important projects more quickly this way.  It’s extremely important that this team has all of the capabilities necessary to complete the project.  You would be surprised how inventive these teams can become when they are solely focused on achieving a goal!

Create a project plan

Compile a list of everything that could possibly need to be done in the project, and then assign a difficulty to it.  There are a variety of ways to create scoring for difficulty but for the purposes of this article, let's say Hard is a 5, medium is a 3, and easy is a 1.  Then after compiling all possible actions needed and scoring them, put them in the order they need to be done.  You now have a complete list of steps, and a numerical value to how much work the project is.  This list of to-do’s becomes the project plan, and the order is decided by what is the most important step and what will drive the most value to the end customer.  If “something” really doesn’t drive value, while it might be nice to have, that “something” can be removed to increase speed.

Work in sprints

1 week, 2 week, 4 weeks, a sprint is a period of time where the team is assigned work that they must absolutely complete in that sprint - in the order you decided above.  The team will only work on those things and no more!  The key is to find out how much work you can do in a sprint, and you’ll have a number for that.  After a couple of sprints - you’ll know how much work the team can do in an average sprint.  Let’s say your project was a total of 200 points, and you’re averaging 25 points of “to-do's" in a sprint, that means you’ll be done in 8 weeks!  Projecting completion of a project becomes easier this way, and you can work to speed up and do more work each sprint as you get better.

Sprint Review

At the end of each sprint you review the work, look for ways to speed up, remove obstacles and all work together without ego to drive the project forward.  You’ll then all agree to what will be done in the next sprint.

Additional Details

This article is a very, very, top-line overview and of course there are a variety of details that we don’t have space for, such as how to structure the team, creating sprint plans, moving the different tasks from to-do over to done, and what the definition of done actually is.  I’d encourage you to read more about this process or reach out to me if you’d like to discuss further how this could help your team.

I can say that while you can’t always have a dedicated team to a particular initiative, you can apply this process to project work.  We did this with one of our category product development teams in R&D when I was with Dunkin’, and saw productivity and output increase over 200%.  Additionally, the team was happier, felt that they really understood what was important, and could visually see a sense of accomplishment at the end of their sprint - hard to beat that!  My wife Christine and I also implemented this process when we moved into our new home five years ago and found it to be a fantastic way to ensure we focused on first working on the things we would get the most value from, and setting great expectations on what would be able to be completed in any given sprint.  I’m still amazed she agreed to it!  We got a tremendous amount done in a very short period of time.

I offer a challenge to you to take a hard look at your innovation-to-market process and see if you can incorporate some of these principles to remove waste, increase focus, incorporate sprints, and find projects that could use dedicated teams and incorporate this new mentality.  You will find it pays tremendous dividends!

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