I recently participated in a Kaizen event to improve a global manufacturer’s capability to launch new products. As a veteran of Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing events during my corporate career, I was interested to see how Kaizen might improve a critical marketing and sales process.
This multi-division company did not have a documented product introduction process. Product launches were implemented at the discretion of each product marketing manager. With major new product platforms ready for market, the company believed this competency was essential for business success.
Our cross-functional Kaizen team consisted of sales and marketing managers from each division, a sales consultant, an operations manager, and a technology manager. As a provider of marketing services to the company, I was invited to participate in the Kaizen as a subject matter expert. Two Lean black belts served as facilitators. We met in a half-day prep session and a one-day workshop event. Our objective was to create a best-practice new product introduction process for application across the company.
Admittedly, I was skeptical that we could accomplish our goal in such a compressed time frame. But the facilitators flogged us hard and kept us focused on the mission. Using a swim-lane diagram tool, we identified all of the new product introduction tasks across six parallel paths – marketing, sales, technology, operations, customers, and legal. Interconnects and decision points between the tasks also were inserted. During a 10-minute brainstorming frenzy, we broke up into teams, furiously scribbled marketing tasks on Post-it notes, and stuck them to the wall.
I was astounded at how much work the team completed in a matter of hours. We created a comprehensive product introduction process that meshed well with the company’s present technology development methodology. Four key elements of the process were identified as significant improvement opportunities:
- Product definition – Creation of a powerful unique value proposition
- Marketing strategy – Development of the product’s positioning and pricing, competitive analysis, launch budget, brand building vs. lead generation, channel strategy, etc.
- Product sampling plan – Making samples available at launch
- Internal launch – Sales, product, and operations training
These elements will be internalized and given special emphasis as the new process is rolled out across the company. Congratulations to the team for embracing a Kaizen approach to create a simple, yet comprehensive, product introduction path that will dramatically improve their sales and marketing efforts. — Rick Whitmyre