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The role of the product launch boss in the NPI process August 23, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing, Just for Campaign Managers, Marketing Operations.
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What is the role of the launch boss in the new product introduction (NPI) process?

This is a good question.  One that can lead to confusion and consternation if the role isn’t clearly defined at the outset.  I had the opportunity to attend a conference hosted by the Product Realization Group last week.  Often, but not always, this role falls on the shoulders of someone in product management or product marketing. Rob Bisaillon, director of new product introduction at Verigy Memory and Application Specific Test Systems Division, offered a few success factors regarding the NPI process, and insights into the most effective product launch bosses.

Rob’s list of Key Success Factors included:

  • Team formation & kick-off: define the team, name all active team members and communicate their involvement to the rest of the organization beginning with a kick-off meeting to align participants and set expectations.
  • Set clear goals and deliverables: time tables often change, so adopt a discipline of setting and communicating goals often.  Whether deliverables are engineering-, production-, or marketing/sales-related, make a point to include a short one-line description of each regarding the who/what/when/where/why associated with any/all deliverables.  This helps to avoid any confusion down the road.
  • Action tracking and reviews: be formal about tracking the status of open action items.  Many teams use the red-yellow-green color scheme to highlight status.  Microsoft Project(TM) is an example of a good tool to use.
  • Timely resolution of issues: when open issues are not resolved quickly, they fester.  A good launch boss will grab the bull by the horns to wrestle the issue to resolution.  Effective launch bosses are always diplomatic, but they are not afraid to to tackle sticky issues and bring them before a steering committee for a final resolution.
  • Check point reviews with executive management: the effective NPI team will have structured review meetings with upper management.  These meetings are sometimes referred to as “Gate” meetings.  When differences in opinions arise (and they will), the NPI leader’s role is not to dictate the final answer. Instead, the effective product launch boss will bring the issue, with a recommendation, to the steering committee for them to vote on or resolve.
  • Executive sponsorship: a bottoms-up approach to product launches only works so far.  Without executive sponsorship to guide and direct decisions and team behavior, the NPI will suffer and frustration levels will rise.

With these six key points in mind, Rob went further to offer that while product experience is important, the most important characteristics of an effective launch boss are their temperament, attitude, and ability to clearly communicate with team members.  In fact, product knowledge and technical expertise are usually in great supply; whereas, the ability to navigate politics, soothe feathers, and guide a cross-functional team to success is not quite as common.

Adding my own thoughts to Rob’s, I believe the single hardest thing for a launch boss (or integrated campaign manager!) to do is to get team members to take action when, in fact, they don’t report to you.  When the launch boss resorts to dictatorial action, the risk of failure increases.  But, when team leaders leave their egos at the door, invite cross-functional participation and leadership, and focuses on managing the process not the outcome, teammates will recognize and favor the launch boss’ value-add.

If you have an example of an exceptional launch boss, or a poor one, I’d love to hear your story.