New product introduction (NPI) is a process that’s improved through experience and iteration. At its core, NPI is about accurately planning and predicting the steps involved in designing, manufacturing, and introducing a new product to the market.
A checklist can help guide you through every step of the NPI process. Here’s how to make one:
Why product launches fail
Product launches fail for a number of reasons, including:
- Lack of demand
- Poor pricing
- A poorly designed product
- Schedule delays
- Regulatory issues
- Cost overruns
All of these issues can be mitigated through properly structured NPI. By involving all relevant teams as early as possible in the NPI process, you can eliminate information silos and avoid supply chain issues, problems with consumer demand, schedule delays, and more.
Benefits of an NPI checklist
There are an almost incalculable number of moving parts to consider when introducing a new product to the market. A checklist can help you ensure that all of these parts are accounted for and moving in a coordinated manner. By providing team leads with the same checklist, you can ensure that all parties are on the same schedule with the same expectations.
Project management is essential when producing a new product. An NPI checklist makes project management easier, breaking down the NPI process into manageable chunks.
What to include in your NPI checklist
We’re going to provide some suggestions for relevant items to include in your NPI checklist. Note that every project is different, and there may be essential points unique to your project that aren’t listed here. Take this checklist as a template; add or remove from it what you see fit, and keep what works.
We recommend that the checklist feature at least four statuses: “Not started”, “In progress”, “Delayed (awaiting X), and “Complete”.
Additionally, the checklist should contain links to folders containing documentation related to that checklist item.
Your project name
We recommend using code names for your project—these names should be, at best, loosely associated with the actual part or project you’re creating. Codenames can sometimes leak, and it’s best practice to keep all NPI as close to your chest as possible until marketing is ready to advertise the product to the markets.
Short and sweet is best. Project Firefly. Project Cookie Monster. Memorable. Simple.
A bit of an aside from the checklist, but let’s talk trademarks. You may have an idea of what you want to name your final product or part. The timing for registering your trademark can be tricky—you want enough time that someone won’t scoop it up before you do but not so much time that the markets (and your competitors) can start guessing at what you’re developing.
Describe the part
You’ll need a description of what it is, roughly, that you’re trying to build. You’ll, of course, have files containing drawings, detailed descriptions, and eventually, even CAD files. Try to create a high-level description in one or two short sentences. Here are a couple of examples:
“A membrane switch fitted for our Model 6 oven with indicator lights to signal when the oven is in use”
“A self-sealing envelope with an easy-to-remove biodegradable layer over the adhesive”
Project Initiation date
The date the project will start: Likely, this will be a few days before or after the checklist was made (or on the day the checklist was made).
Identifying names and their responsibilities
You’ll need to know who is in charge of what. Again, short and sweet is best; keep things to team leads and contact points. The individual teams who have access to this checklist should make their own checklists identifying who will be in charge of different responsibilities within that time. Remember: Project management is about breaking things down into more manageable chunks. Here are a few examples:
Gillian McAvoy: Project Manager
James Thirst: Marketing Lead
Trisha Cullins: Engineering Lead
Taylor King: Contract Manufacturing
Note that even third parties, like your contract manufacturing contact, should be included in the list of names and responsibilities.
What’s the overall goal of your project? Who is your product or part helping? What’s the business case for creating this product or part? Describe it. Get into the details: Statistics, graphs, data from marketing, and anything else you can include that supports why this project should exist. The high-level project objective overview, while supported with many pages of information, should be concise—think elevator pitch.
What’s the budget for this project? The timeline? How complex is the part or product? How many parties are involved in its creation? What’s the end goal? (Think back to the project objective). What are the critical parts, equipment, and skills needed to complete the project?
Note that the entire budget (broken down into the budget for various teams) should be completed for this part of the checklist to be considered complete.
You’ll need to get samples from your contract manufacturer as part of quality control. How many samples will you need? What are your QA requirements? The Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) is something we’ll address in more detail later in this checklist. Regulatory requirements and customer satisfaction must be considered.
Customer testing requirements
Ensuring that the part meets requirements set forth by various third-party certifiers, like UL, is essential.
Supply chain management
List all of the components that aren’t readily available to you; these components might be affected by supply chain issues. You should consider how delays in these components could affect production and plan accordingly.
Your schedule will undoubtedly shift as the project progresses. Nonetheless, you should create a schedule to track:
- First production date
- And other key timeframes
Creating a PPAP checklist is quite complex. We recommend working with your contract manufacturers, engineers, and legal team to create one.
Any other additional notes
Leave space on your checklist to add additional information or items.
Recovering a botched project
Even with the most carefully planned NPI process, things can go wrong. Here’s what to do when the project goes awry:
Slow or stop the project
When things are going wrong, it’s vital to take a step back and find out what’s causing problems. A team that continues forging ahead can make diagnosing the problem that much more difficult. You might not have to stop work on the project completely, but slow it down until you can assess the damages.
Speak to your team
Have your team leaders speak to their teams, then have a meeting with the leaders of each of the teams (and anyone who they think should join for the meeting). Get everyone to come up with a list of what’s challenged them, what bottlenecks exist, and how they think these problems can be solved. Remember: Everyone needs to be able to speak their mind, with no judgment, for the problem to get solved.
Know when to quit
You created a scope, with timelines and budgets, for a reason. Don’t sink more money and effort into the project than you can get back. Cut your losses if you need to.
Understand the root cause
There are a number of methods for getting to the root causes of problems. You can ask “Why?” over and over, like a toddler, until you get to an actionable cause. You can use fishbone diagrams. Pareto analysis, fault tree analysis—whatever works for your team. Encourage each team leader to get their own teams to find root causes. Share your analyses.
Understand the risks
Every project has risks: The risk of going over budget, the risk of not making it to market on time, and many more. Now that your project is struggling, many more risks can develop. Be aware of any new risks that arise, keep the old risks in mind, and plan around them—all while remembering that you may need to pull the plug on the project.
Prepare an action plan
In collaboration with your team, prepare a plan to keep the project alive. A number of stakeholders may be ready to abandon the project; you may have to convince them to stay on board. To do so, you’ll need to create a compelling argument. Your argument should be:
- Supported by statistics
- Supported by the stakeholders who want the project to succeed
- Held up by realistic, actionable goals
- Able to provide rationale for why the project can still work
- Able to show how changes in your methodology will reinvigorate the project
Meet with your stakeholders
Create an agenda for each meeting, and meet with stakeholders regularly at this emergency recovery phase of your project. At each meeting, determine if:
- There’s still a business case for the project
- Your initial business case doesn’t make sense, if there’s a modified or new business case for the project
Decide your next steps
Once you’ve determined whether or not the project should go on, take the next steps. Sometimes, that’s killing the project. Other times, it’s all-hands-on-deck double shift work to get the project back on track. You might have found a new material you can use when the supply chain has let you down. You might have discovered a new market for your product. Whatever you’ve found, take steps toward your new goals as soon as possible, and provide proof that things are back on track within 24-48 hours.
Confirm your action plan
Once you’ve got an action plan in place, get your team leads to bring the plan back to their teams. Confirm with everyone that the plan is a go, then get it started.
You’ve adjusted your action plan, sent the information to the teams, and adjusted all relevant documentation. Now it’s time to get to work. The first 24-48 hours are often crucial. You might have to put in a lot of extra hours at crunch time. If you believe in the project, those extra hours will be more than worth it.
We’ve gone over a checklist for NPI, and we’ve reviewed what to do when a project goes off the rails. In all of this, it’s important to have partners who have engaged in NPI before.
General Label is such a partner. We’ll help you with everything from budgeting to supply chain management. We can help you develop sampling requirements, a PPAP checklist, and more. We can even recommend new manufacturing methods and materials if your project goes off the rails.