New product introduction (NPI) is the practice of introducing new products to a market; it encompasses everything from initial design to full-scale production.
NPI program managers are an essential piece of the NPI process. They ensure that NPI runs smoothly. They’re the point person for the entire product; they may interact directly with various stakeholders, team leaders, and C-suite executives.
Let’s explore what NPI program managers do in greater detail:
What Is an NPI Program Manager?
NPI (new product introduction) program managers are responsible for coordinating and managing new product introduction. Working with management and stakeholders, they schedule activities, coordinate between teams, set standards for quality control, handle budgeting, and ensure the success of the new product.
The NPI Program Manager is the point person for the entire project. New product introduction has hundreds of moving parts—the Program Manager keeps all of those parts moving in the same direction.
Job Duties of an NPI Program Manager
NPI program managers have a variety of duties, including:
- Leading and managing the development and introduction of new products to the market
- Coordinating cross-functional teams, and teams including marketing, engineering, quality assurance, and others
- Working and coordinating with third parties (like contract manufacturers) and stakeholders (like investors)
- Setting project timelines and budgets
- Communicating with stakeholders and management to provide updates on the progress of the project
- Conducting risk assessments and developing contingency plans
- Managing the launch of the product
- Developing marketing plans and coordinating with sales and marketing teams
- Implementing contingency plans when the project encounters roadblocks or moves off the rails
- Manage product or component readiness
- Consider cost-per-unit, estimated sales, and other factors to estimate profits
- Stopping the project when it becomes clear that the project is no longer viable
Those are just some of an NPI Program Manager’s duties.
NPI Program Manager Outlook & Salaries
NPI program managers are well compensated for their work. As experienced project managers coordinating between multiple teams and stakeholders, NPI program managers usually have years of experience managing other projects.
First-time NPI program managers can make salaries from $80,000-$90,000 a year. Highly experienced NPI program managers can make well over $100,000 per year.
The outlook for NPI program managers is very good. NPI program management is not likely to be replaced by AI. Companies continue to introduce new products to the market—amid market uncertainty, an experienced NPI program manager is an invaluable asset.
As product introduction becomes more complex, requiring coordination between more teams and stakeholders, NPI program managers become even more valuable. Experienced NPI program managers should be able to find meaningful work at many different companies.
Job Requirements of NPI Program Managers
A combination of education and experience is required to become an NPI program manager. Educational requirements often include:
- A Bachelor’s degree in a related field (Engineering, Business Administration, Supply Chain Management, etc.)
- A Masters in a related field (see above)
- Certification in project management, supply chain management, and other related fields (APICS, PMP, PMI, etc.)
Experience managing a variety of projects is a huge asset. Employers look for project managers who have worked with marketing teams, engineers, and other key NPI roleplayers. Knowledge of NPI, including working on new products in a non-management role, is an asset. A background in both project management and engineering is the best way to become an NPI Program Manager.
Required Skills for NPI Program Managers
To be successful in the position, an understanding of project management, including coordinating between teams, managing budgets and deadlines, scheduling activities, and working with third parties and stakeholders, is essential. Knowledge of project management techniques like Scrum and Kanban is an asset.
Experience in new product development and introduction is essential. The NPI program manager will be expected to anticipate TTM (time-to-market), estimate consumer demand (and profitability), and predict and manage the risks associated with NPI.
Manufacturing process engineering
The ability to devise and implement manufacturing processes to build the part or process being developed is an important asset. While the manufacturing might not be done in-house, experience with manufacturing processes can help the NPI program manager establish the viability of the proposed part or product. Knowledge of manufacturing process engineering will also help the program manager coordinate with contract manufacturers.
By definition, the introduction of a new product will lead to new problems. Prototypes may need to be scrapped and reworked. The schedule may need to be pushed back. Market demand may be lower than anticipated. Competitors may make it to market faster than you. Individual teams may encounter their own problems, and information silos can develop. NPI Program Managers must anticipate these problems and quickly solve unexpected issues when they arrive. Creative problem-solving is key.
When coordinating between in-house teams, third parties, and various stakeholders, careful, concise communication is vital. NPI Program Managers must be excellent communicators—and masters of conflict resolution.
Supply chain management
Procuring the materials necessary for building a part or product to scale is an essential part of NPI project management. Knowledge of supply chain management best practices and certification from organizations like APICS are a boon for NPI program managers.
Clarity of vision, conflict resolution skills, and the resolve to complete a complex project with several moving parts are all essential parts of being a successful NPI program manager. Leadership skills, honed over years of project management and other management roles, are essential.
Anticipating and planning for a variety of risks is essential to NPI project management. Competitors will try to get to market first—secrets about your project may leak, compliance issues may halt production—the list goes on. By predicting risks and putting contingency plans in place, NPI Program Managers can improve the success rate of their projects.
NPI is an inherently strategic practice—it takes long-term thinking, the ability to predict market conditions, and an assessment of risks, benefits, costs, and potential profits. Strong strategic thinking skills are essential.
NPI Program Manager Trends & Patterns
There are several noticeable trends and patterns to be aware of as NPI becomes a more sophisticated practice. They include:
- The need for more technical skills. Almost all present-day NPI program managers have some knowledge of supply chain management or manufacturing process engineering. As both supply chains and manufacturing evolve, their complexity grows. More sophisticated technical knowledge will continue to be an asset for NPI program managers in the future.
- An eye to sustainability. There are several private and public sector incentives, both tangible and intangible, for improving sustainability. NPI program managers with a proven track record of pioneering sustainable designs and with knowledge of sustainable practices and incentives will be in high demand.
- Managing remote and virtual work in a globalized economy. NPI program managers are no longer tasked to simply manage teams within the same building. Many team members will work virtually, often across time zones—sometimes across continents. Program managers should be adept at working with video conferencing and virtual workspaces.
- Working within rapidly changing global conditions. Globalization has long been a mainstay of supply chain management. Currently, global conditions are changing rapidly, and supply chains are being disrupted. While we can hope for a return to stability soon, NPI program managers with experience successfully navigating supply chain disruptions will be highly regarded.
An NPI program manager typically works in an office, though remote and virtual work are becoming more common. Program managers can expect to visit a variety of off-site locations; they’ll meet with contract manufacturers, visit warehouses and manufacturing facilities, and travel from office to office, meeting and coordinating with team members.
Becoming an NPI Program Manager
Becoming an NPI program manager involves developing the education, experience, and skills necessary to be hired for the position. Working as a project manager for smaller companies will help you gain the necessary experience. Another path is to work as a process manufacturing engineer, then to manage contract manufacturing programs related to NPI. Working in supply chain management is another asset. Once you’ve acquired the necessary skills, apply at companies looking for NPI program managers or NPI project managers.
Opportunities for Advancement
There are several ways to advance in an NPI program management career. Successful NPI program managers are highly sought out by larger companies, with the best NPI program managers earning $300,000+ a year. Additionally, NPI program managers can move into large companies’ supply chain management positions and eventually move into director and C-suite positions.
A career in NPI program management is filled with opportunities, interesting challenges, and the chance to create exciting new products.
At General Label, we have decades of experience in NPI, manufacturing high-quality parts for products of all kinds. Leverage our NPI experience in your next project!