Brandt On Leadership -- Our New-Product Plan: Keep Out

Involving customers and others is a pain. So is worrying about manufacturability and marketing.

I've been hearing a lot of prattle inside the company lately about the importance of new products, how they're the lifeblood of our future, blah blah blah. This is usually followed by hand-wringing and boo-hooing about how hard it is to coordinate a product launch along with a sackful of clichs about herding cats or three-legged stools and, eventually, a suggestion that we overhaul our innovation processes.

Let me be clear: There will be NO changes -- at least on my watch -- in how we develop new products. As your CEO, I firmly believe that we know as much as anyone in our industry about managing innovation, and we will stay the course with our patented five-step Full-involvement Launch & Operational Product Staging (FLOPS) methodology. For those of you who've forgotten how much hassle real innovation can be, here's a quick review of our much easier FLOPS process:

Stage 1: We always begin product development by ignoring our customers. Why? Because over the years we've found that our customers are a bunch of nitpickers who complain even more than our employees. Even worse, every time we satisfy one of their supposed "needs," they immediately think of three others! Add to that the fact that our executive team is a lot smarter than the dopes who buy from us, and you can see why consulting our client base would just delay the innovation cycle.

Stage 2: In this step we broaden the circle of those we ignore to include our own manufacturing, distribution, sales and marketing functions. This is crucial, because each of these groups -- left to their own devices -- would try to "optimize" the great products our engineers have already designed, throwing yet another monkey wrench into the process. Oh, how I hate the whining: "The materials cost too much," or "We don't have the machinery to make it," or "How can we possibly package it for retail?" Look, I hired you morons to solve problems, not point fingers. So quit bellyaching and go solve them!

Stage 3: Here we mangle the already unmanufacturable product by altering specs on the shop-floor to fit our hopelessly outdated equipment. It's an important step, too, because without it, we might accidentally build good products at decent margins. This way we not only ensure lots of customer complaints, but we also increase our liability for product failures due to quality defects. Now that's teamwork!

Stage 4: This is where we make sure that even if by some fluke we've built a good product, we kill it before it ever reaches potentially delighted customers. Our primary tactic is information starvation -- marketing doesn't learn what we've built until there's a warehouse full of it, distributors aren't introduced to a new product until it's on the trucks, and customers don't hear about it until the trade press chronicles our latest (disastrous) stealth launch.

Stage 5: Service is our last line of defense in preventing a successful new product launch and all the crazy customer expectations that go along with it. Nothing kills even a good new product faster than a lack of support -- so we don't even tell our service guys about a new product until three months after we ship. Technical manuals? At least six months. Modifications based on customer feedback? You must be joking. After all, if we ran around responding to every customer request or whim, we wouldn't have a FLOPS process in the first place, would we?

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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