Expert Manufacturing Advice tailored for step-by-step implementation in the workplace. Small Manufacturers, Machine Shops and CAD Engineers improve and thrive with our hands-on help. What the Best Performing Manufacturers Do - 2 Approval Gates and Reviews, Resourcing, Cross-Functional Team, and Access to Facilities and Tools Essential Product Development for Engineers

What the Best Performing Manufacturers Do - 2 Approval Gates and Reviews, Resourcing, Cross-Functional Team, and Access to Facilities and Tools

Essential Product Development for Engineers

Reviews and Stage Gate Approval

As mentioned above, product development is an inherently risky business. With so much at stake, the product development process needs checks and balances in place to minimise these risks and so maximise the probability of product development success.

An effective way of doing this is to periodically check the progress on work undertaken and on technical decisions being made. By using the cross-functional team to examine and assess each stage, the technical decisions and activities undertaken can be scrutinised for quality. They can also ensure the project is still moving towards its overall objectives at pace as planned.

The Specification, as a reference, is critical in this process. Also the different disciplines the cross-functional team bring to bear enable detailed examinations from a range of technical perspectives. Progress Reviews feature at the end of each stage in the ‘Product Development Process and Stages’ section.

Product Development Process including Stage Gate Reviews & Go No-Go Decisions

Cross-Functional Team Expertise

Mentioned many times above, a cross-functional team with expertise from a range of backgrounds can be invaluable for the governance of product development projects. Considerations can be covered from differing disciplines and perspectives. Representation from key teams like sales and marketing, design engineering, manufacturing and maintenance, enable a far more robust product to be developed and problems resolved early. Are customers and suppliers represented in some way in your team? The best cross functional teams are dynamic, complement each other, work quickly and efficiently, as well as communicate well. In short, they are very effective. Team members should aim to understand each other’s respective viewpoints. They all have a responsibility at each stage. One idea is for each member to ‘sign-off’ each stage review. It’s all about collective responsibility. The cross functional team should be used to review, govern and make decisions. This is different from the execution of the development tasks, which may be carried out by individuals or small teams.

Cross-Functional Team Advantages and Best Practices 


Project Management, Planning and Resources

Developing a product can be a major undertaking for a small manufacturer. As mentioned earlier, this is commercially risky. Formally managing this activity as a project provides greater control and enables the risks to be better managed and therefore reduced. Formal project management includes disciplined scheduling and considered resource planning and allocation. Formal project management techniques (such as Prince2 or APMP) together with practical application information is covered in the Project Management section  


Access to Facilities and Tools

Design tools such as 3D CAD and its derivative technologies such as CAM, 3D Printing and FEA, can add considerable value to the development process. In addition, physical prototyping facilities, workshops and more specialist resources, like test and research facilities can benefit the design cycle. These capabilities of course only really come into their own when you have the practical skills to fully exploit them. For many small manufacturers, they may or may not have access to some or all of all of these. Having the internal ability is great for some. For others options include hiring, partnering, commissioning and outsourcing. Cost and availability are important factors here.


Leadership and Senior Management Backing

As mentioned at the start of this section, strong leadership is important to drive the process and guide other employees. Training and research in the product development process should be seen as an investment. Importantly, all product development projects must have strong senior management support, not only at the start, but throughout and particularly at the review stages. It safeguards resource, supports those involved, enriches the process through valuable contributions, as well as raises team morale and enthusiasm.

Senior management backing is also important to give product development a high priority among other company business. This also ensures the members of the cross-functional team have the authority to be assembled rapidly to take decisions. Awarding the project high priority status, with expected deliverables and set milestones, maintains momentum. This is partially because with visible, high priority projects, senior managers require progress reports. This expectation drives progress.


Continuous Improvement

New product development team members should strive to constantly learn lessons from their activities, to improve the process for the business, both now and in the future. Refining new development activities and stages enables future products to be developed quicker, more cheaply and to a higher quality. A detailed rigorous lessons learned session should take place at the end of the product development project. A formal method of capturing good ideas and sharing them among other team members should be adopted. Reviews between stages are an ideal time to examine and list lessons learned. For new projects, refer to previous lessons learned logs to benefit. Good ideas and improvement themes should be captured from the different perspectives of those in the cross-functional teams.


OK, so there are a range of principles and considerations the most effective businesses deploy for product development success. Management of the product development process is also assisted by a number of additional factors, some of which are listed below. Again the key thing is to tailor these points so they best fit your unique circumstances. These are principles, not rigid rules and should be adjusted to your company culture so they work for you and your people. To get the most from them, apply them in a way that is most likely to be adapted and employed quickly and consistently, considering your company culture.

Cross-Functional Team

Next... What the Best Performing Manufacturers Do - 3: Strong communication, process visibility, relevance to all business teams, how to move at pace

Back to Product Development Essentials 

When was the last time your business developed a NEW product? ...Or is 'Product Development' too far removed from your core Production Engineering activities?

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