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Product development and the people challenge: PA product development symposium

PA Consulting Group's product development symposium, held in conjunction with the University of Cambridge, brought together product development leaders from 20 organisations. The event was co-hosted by Steve Carden, Leader of Product Development at PA and John Clarkson, Professor of Engineering Design.

The symposium considered the wide variety of people challenges associated with product development, including recruitment, identifying product development leaders, how teams evolve, the key skills team members need and how culture and personal leadership style influence product development success.

Product development: the view from the sharp end

Many companies across different sectors recognise that people are key to successful product development in an environment characterised by rapid technological change and involving product development professionals from a wide span of disciplines and many geographies. These companies share the challenge of developing excellent leadership and implementation skills from a sound base of smart and able product developers.  

At the symposium we asked leading companies to identify the key factors in successful product development. We talked to senior management and technology professionals in sectors ranging from pharmaceutical and medical device to large engineering and consumer products. Delegates' responses centred on three key themes: people, teams and leadership. 

Developing key people

Delegates identified a common need for integrators on product development teams. These are people who understand the relationships between disciplines and the need to integrate specialists into multifunctional teams.

Building effective teams

Dialogue centred on the challenge of forming teams that combine solid technical and project management ability with leaders capable of directing a team along a coherent journey, whilst maintaining alignment with goals and focus on delivery.

Getting leadership right

The group agreed that leadership style and company culture are often considered to be less important than technical excellence in successful product development teams.  However, there was clear agreement that the culture of an organisation and its leadership style are important because they set the tone for personal development, and for how teams interact on projects and revitalise when projects change.

Reflecting on successful product development

Guest speakers at the symposium built on these themes, drawing from personal experiences in successful companies, and highlighting the attributes that had contributed to the successful delivery of new products from their organisations to the market.

The symposium concluded with widespread consensus on the challenges of developing the key people, the effective teamwork and the engaged leadership that need to be at the heart of successful product development. In addition many practical interventions were proposed for participants to consider for deployment back in their own organisations.  

“We need people more than they need us” was the rueful reflection of one delegate, encapsulating the need to address the people challenges for sustainable success in developing innovative new products and transferring them successfully through manufacture to the marketplace.

To find out more about how PA can deliver value for your organisation through innovative product development,  please contact us now.

Mark Humphries
Product development and manufacturing
contact us now

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