In the previous article, we considered how frontloading can facilitate the introduction of business-driven objectives and associated planning processes early in the project life cycle, when the ability to carry out changes is high.
While frontloading adds time and expense to the initial stages of a project, these costs are minor compared to the costs and consequences of changes made at a later stage.
Doing it right – Frontloading Crop Protection R&D
One challenge of frontloading is deciding what and how much information we need. After defining the project (the “What” and the “Why”), the joint project team (representing, e.g., patent, biology, registration, synthesis, formulation, production, commercial and marketing) will brainstorm questions such as customer value, markets, patents, regulatory requirements, production, NPV (Net Present Value) and COGS (cost of goods sold).
Some questions might be answered at once; others might need to be answered through estimates. For verification of estimates, and to answer the remaining questions, team members will disperse to obtain the remaining answers, to be shared with the rest of the team at a later meeting. All team members need to hear questions from other departments – not just to facilitate agreement, but also to reduce the risk of late-stage changes.
In one example, at an early frontloading meeting the commercial specialist asked what the requirements for a Brazilian product launch would be. This caused some surprise in the project team, as the Brazilian market was not included in the project description and had not otherwise been mentioned.
Figure 1: Cross-functional frontloading introduces critical knowledge at the beginning of the product development process, when decisions have the most influence with the least expense.
This example shows the importance of frontloading with participants who would otherwise be involved in the project much later. Frontloading gives the team the chance to discuss critical changes at the start of the project and avoiding expensive delays at the end.
This process becomes easier as the organization gains experience in frontloading, and a template to facilitate future frontloading can be introduced. Using a template containing the most relevant questions will allow team members to document critical knowledge before the first frontloading meeting, making the decision process more efficient.
The following contains examples of typical frontloading questions for crop protection development projects:
The next table contains examples of frontloading questions for biological evaluations. Frontloading will typically take place between the requisitioner (for example, Formulation Development) and the biological testing facility (e.g., the greenhouse team):
As a manager of both cross-functional innovation project teams and biological evaluation teams, I have experienced that frontloading increased the overall rate at which we identified and solved development problems.
This was in part because we had all the critical knowledge up front, allowing us to estimate resources and timelines effectively and saving a lot of wasted trials. This information had always available within the organization, but by communicating systematically and effectively “up-front,” we experienced a significant decrease in waste, and an increase in project effectiveness and success.
Following the frontloading process, we are ready to move to the second phase of LEAN innovation: implementing frontloading decisions through a quick and efficient development process.
Do it right – Visually Planning Crop Protection R&D
Visual Planning is a resource management platform that facilitates the implementation of frontloading decisions through a quick and efficient development process.
In the following example of biological testing project management in a laboratory or greenhouse facility, we use a visual planning board to manage incoming tests within the lab’s daily operations schedule.
The planning board provides a visual overview of lab capacity as well as an outline of work in progress and work to be done.
Visual planning boards can be physical (e.g., Post-Its or magnets on a whiteboard) or virtual (Excel spreadsheet). The advantage of a physical board is that it is always visible for all team members, while the disadvantage is that updating the board is a manual process that takes time.
Figure 2: Physical (wall-mounted) visual planning board using magnets.
The virtual board has the advantage that many processes can be automated, while the downside is that it is not always visible. Thus, the virtual board is suited for individuals or small teams whose activities are computer-based, while the physical board is suitable for larger groups in a more hands-on lab or greenhouse environment.
Figure 3: Virtual (spreadsheet-based) visual planning board
A further advantage of the virtual board is that completed tasks can be archived and used to prepare summaries of annual task distribution, completion statistics, resource use, and other key performance indicators.
For lab and greenhouse testing facilities, we can divide the board into four sections:
- Work in progress Task section: project id; aim; priority; deadline; requisitioner; internal responsible
- Work in progress Daily planner: Monday to Sunday
- Work in progress Weekly planner: 8-12 weeks using ISO week-numbering
- Work to be done: project id; aim; expected start data; deadline; requisitioner
The x-axis of Sections 2 (day) and 3 (week) cover the time dimension, with one box for each day or week, while each y-axis row covers one task trial. We can obtain an overview of task distribution (Section 1) using coloured magnets – for example: white for insecticides, silver for fungicides, and gold for herbicides. In the daily and weekly task sections, coloured magnets for each member of the team provide an accessible resource distribution overview.
New requisitions for trials are placed in Section 4 (work to be done). At the weekly planning meeting (30 minutes), these trials are designated to appropriate weeks, depending on resource availability and task priority, and an internal responsible team member assigned.
By involving external project team members, lab staff are aware of the cross-functional needs of the project. Other advantages include:
- Team members feel ownership for the individual trials and have a stronger sense of responsibility
- Management has an overview of work in progress, as well as any issues
- Management becomes visible and directly involved in daily operations
- External project team members can evaluate resource availability and follow the progress of their prototype
By preparing and maintaining the visual planning board, lab staff accept ownership of the plan, understand the overall strategy, and take responsibility for achieving milestones on time.
Ownership of the plan relieves the project manager from “dictating” deliverables, and lab staff become accountable to external members of the project team tasked with providing deliverables on time.
In this environment, the project manager can focus on managing the overall process, rather than the individual steps. This includes providing perspective, steering discussions and maintaining focus, promoting creativity, and securing additional resources when needed.
When implemented successfully, the visual planning process becomes the lab team’s responsibility. It is the lab team who should decide the timing and agenda of the regular weekly meetings. In this way, the lab team can adapt the visual planning board to their requirements, increasing their overview, reducing lead times and backlogs, and improved scheduling and resource planning.
In summary, frontloading ensures business-driven objectives and associated planning processes are introduced early in the project life cycle, when the ability to carry out changes is high, and the cost of these changes is low. Visual Planning is a resource management platform that facilitates the implementation of frontloading decisions through a quick and efficient development process. Together, frontloading and visual planning ensure faster, effective innovation with more predictable output.
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Are you looking to understand basic aspects of AgChem R&D Management? STRATEGIC R&D MANAGEMENT: AGCHEM & BIOSCIENCE (THE LABCOAT GUIDE TO CROP PROTECTION Book 2) offers an easily accessible introduction to essential principles of Strategic Management in Crop Protection Development and Research.
A little about myself
I am a Plant Scientist with a background in Molecular Plant Biology and Crop Protection. 20 years ago, I worked at Copenhagen University and the University of Adelaide on plant responses to biotic and abiotic stress in crops.
At that time, biology-based crop protection strategies had not taken off commercially, so I transitioned to conventional (chemical) crop protection R&D at Cheminova, later FMC.
During this period, public opinion, as well as increasing regulatory requirements, gradually closed the door of opportunity for conventional crop protection strategies, while the biological crop protection technology I had contributed to earlier began to reach commercial viability.
I am available to provide independent Strategic R&D Management as well as Scientific Development and Regulatory support to AgChem & BioScience organizations developing science-based products.
For more information, visit BIOSCIENCE SOLUTIONS – Strategic R&D Management Consultancy.