Product managers are continuously working on the balance between R&D and sales. What challenges do they face in streamlining processes in these different departments? And how do they manage the challenge of ever shorter product life cycle and new techniques entering the R&D process?
Product management is often referred to as the art of product life cycle management. It is about developing and managing products within a company. I find that for most breeding companies that is just the first challenge; doing a single development project right.
In the growing-, more complex companies the challenge is to manage the total portfolio of products. Market conditions change; new technologies are introduced; and most varieties are subject to fierce competition. How can you make sure you are investing in the right R&D projects? And more importantly; how do you anticipate early enough by starting new R&D projects?
Think beyond 1 product
Managing portfolio’s would be an answer. This assumes you are looking beyond the scope of just 1 innovation or product. A single variety is what could be referred to as a product; managed by a product manager. But how do you rank R&D investment for the white compact Gerbera compared to the red large flower Gerbera? This is going beyond a single product and aims to manage all products within a company; the total portfolio. In a way that is best for the company as a whole
Cooper refers to Portfolio Management as “The manifestation of your business strategy”. It dictates where and how you will invest for the future. It is often referred to as the single most important senior role in new product development.
Still, many seed companies do not employ dedicated portfolio managers. Typically this work is spread amongst product managers, management and breeders. I notice within these companies that their portfolios are managed more indirectly by coordinating the different stakeholders in group discussions.
Shared information is crucial
To do this effectively; you need information from objective and reliable data sources. You need to base your decisions as much as possible on facts and figures. Research shows that most companies use financial value as the most important factor in decision making within a portfolio. A growing part of companies is combining the financial value with their business strategy to weigh decisions on new products (we aim to become market leader in processing tomato for the US, so this increases the value of related new products). Often proven to lead to a more successful portfolio in the long run.
Availability of information
When we look at plant variety management we can distinguish between the following data sources that are vital to decisions on your portfolio:
- Planned sales, short-, mid- and long term (as derived from your business strategy)
- Current market position (actual sales figures)
- R&D pipeline (which varieties are in what stage?)
- Market information (what is the actual market size, what are competitors doing?)
Product managers are depending on this information; yet this information is sourced by different departments in the company. How will he get sales reps to fill out information on market size; potential and competitors? Can the breeder deliver a list of upcoming varieties? Etc. So in most cases he ends up with lots of excel files that need to be interpreted and ideally integrated.
Product manager is the linking pin
The product manager is often the linking pin between the R&D department and the Marketing/Sales department. I often find that the primary process of both departments is quite different. There is a need for coordination between the two to make sure they are working together; and not next to each other. And that poses a challenge, especially since there are typically different ‘types’ of people employed at Marketing and R&D departments.
Often employees speak a different ‘language’, aimed at their specific area of expertise. Sharing information becomes prone to error by faulty interpretation. Case studies show that objectifying data and basically co-creating objective information boosts collaboration. And maybe the actual key to success here is that you actually need to interact intensively between R&D and Marketing to define a common language.