Technology development is different to product development. Timescales and costs are more uncertain, and if it is a new technology, then you don’t even know if it will work at all!
The way that you should think about technology development is also different to a product development mindset.
The deliverable of a new product programme is a product. But the deliverable of a new technology programme is not a product, it is knowledge.
Also often technologies are developed by researchers and scientists, who do not have the same character traits as product engineers and designers. They are more interested in the process of technical enquiry than meeting production deadlines.
These things do not readily match and so rather than trying to push a square peg into a round hole it is better to recognise the fact and arrange your processes accordingly.
Technology Development Process
This means that there should be a separate Technology Development process that is complementary to your Product Development process.
It might look something like this.
Note this still has phases and gates, but they are not the same as in a typical Product Development gated process.
The keys are at the initial screen make sure that this is a technology worth investigating (Strategic fit, is it on the roadmap, etc), and although development times are difficult to assess, have clear milestones & sign off criteria that it should pass.
In other words accept that your team can’t give you accurate estimates – they will say “How long is a piece of string?”. Your answer is “I can tell you. It is this long.” In other words you give them a clear timescale and budget to work with that fits the business case and strategy, and if it is not ready when that runs out, then the default position should be that it is cancelled, because there is no money left – Just like a government research grant, or venture capital funding.
Linking Technology Development to Product Development
You need to have some rules that govern the level of readiness you need in order for a technology to be included in a product program. This is where Technology Readiness Levels come in.
You can choose the level of readiness that is acceptable to you depending on the amount of risk you are willing to take and where in the the product development process you plane to introduce the technology.
This is not necessarily easy to do and things won’t always go to plan. However linking the processes like this does give a framework that everyone can understand and hopefully bring a level of control to what can otherwise be a chaotic situation
Contact us if this sounds interesting to you and you would like to discuss it further.