Well, it’s now only 48 days until the doors open at Neocon 2017…yikes!
Many of our friends in the furniture business are drag racing to the deadline for installation of show properties and prototypes. Wash, rinse and repeat…it’s the same every year.
The furniture industry is not alone in their lean and compressed approach to new product development. Our work with automotive suppliers and consumer products companies is focused on the development of advanced projects, show properties, mock-ups, and prototypes. These are best-in-class companies with brilliant leadership, professional managers, gifted marketers, and fantastic creative and technical teams. Since the downturn, many of these companies have also accumulated significant stockpiles of cash. They have all the resources to do things well and we still find ourselves with tight timing, almost constant scope changes and team misalignment moving from early ideation to completion of show properties.
These are the top three reasons for this condition with a few suggestions for improved team performance and a better outcome to industry shows…
VOC (voice of the customer) is key to the success of any project.
In most companies, the harvesting of VOC is the responsibility of the marketing team supported by the sales organization. There are exceptions to this structure and different models are being experimented with to find a competitive edge. For purposes of this writing, let’s assume that marketing is running point on VOC with a cross functional team.
Advanced projects are displayed at industry events for two primary reasons, to gather VOC and grow the brand (we will explore this topic in a future article). Trade shows are very busy places and VOC is offered in different ways. All this feedback must be gathered, compiled, and analyzed quickly following the show. The planning for the next show should begin within 10-15 days following the close of the event. Many of our clients miss the opportunity to capture key findings and apply them to future projects and products. Someone on the team should be responsible to develop tools to capture VOC, review findings at the end of each show day and gather the cross functional team for a workshop to discuss, compile and analyze findings. The plans for the following year or next show can then be validated and/or dialed in to stay ahead of the customer with new solutions to their problems.
Team alignment around clear goals is fundamental to success.
All companies are challenged with day to day business issues while working on advanced projects. Everyone must make money, improve EPS (earnings per share) and return on innovation. Most of our clients leaned up their internal teams years ago to the point where everyone is doing more. To compound the issue, budgets are usually limited to work with external firms to get things done and decisions to work with outside firms are sometimes delayed to the point where timing becomes unrealistic. Wow, so much work and so little time!
Given these circumstances, it’s extremely important for the team to be aligned around a clearly described project brief. If the team is not aligned from the start, the likely hood of success is dramatically diminished.
Team chemistry is also required to optimize performance. When possible, the team should be hand selected for areas of specialization, personality fit, experience and a willingness to work as a team member while checking ego at the door. In a lot of cases, team members are assigned from a production project because they are available with little consideration for their ability to keep up with the advanced project team. Although this seems logical, it is counter intuitive and non-effective for the advanced team.
Ah, the evil money issue…
All of this requires an investment in time, focus, opportunity costs and, of course, money. Advanced projects are tough to budget because you sometimes do not know what you do not know until you invest in research, ideation, sketches, mock-ups, and workshops. This is after the investment of the previous show properties, management time, marketing, design, and engineering. It’s not for the faint of heart or shallow pockets.
We do have a few tips to help effectively manage the investment:
Allow sufficient time and budget in the early phases of the project to accommodate shifts in direction and exploration of new ideas. You never know where this will take the team. If the initial estimates include 1.0 for first phase activities, increase the budget to 1.5. This will liberate the team to do things well while not looking at the clock or check book.
Assemble the very best team players from your internal team and engage with trusted external firms (or free lancers) with proven show property experience. This is highly specialized work and every project is different. Most of our clients have a few trusted firms they’ve worked with over the years. It’s a lot like movie making. Build the team around the project (script) with specialists who will work well together.
Okay then, we wish all our friends working on furniture projects the very best for Neocon 2017! We will stop by and check things out in Chicago.
We welcome your feedback to this article…onward and upward!
Fredricks Design, Inc.
Fredricks Design, Inc. is a full-service design and engineering firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan. The firm specializes in working as an extension of the client studio and engineering team to identify the right problems and accelerate development of solutions from early ideation, feasibility, concept development and production of mock-ups, prototypes and show properties. Fredricks works with key Clients in the automotive interiors and seating industries, advanced rides and show action projects for themed attractions, furniture, and consumer products markets.