industry perspectives

Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas

Guest columnist

Accelerating time-to-market for new products by fostering a culture of collaboration

In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive manufacturing landscape, innovation and speed-to-market are critical factors that determine a company’s success. To stay ahead of the competition and meet ever-evolving customer demands, we must redefine the way we approach research and development (R&D).

Embracing certain agile R&D methodologies is not just about processes; it is about creating a culture of collaboration that fuels creative solutions, empowers teams, drives accelerated time-to-market for new products, and creates sustainable business growth.

The power of collaboration in R&D

Traditional R&D approaches, like the waterfall approach, make sense where customer requirements are locked and the internal product development effort focuses on a fixed set of requirements.

In reality, that is often not the case. When internal R&D occurs in parallel with ongoing customer product development, requirements can, and frequently do, change.

Agile R&D is a collaborative and iterative approach that emphasizes flexibility, responsiveness, and a customer-centric mindset. While agile methodologies have their roots in software development, their principles can be adapted and applied to R&D processes across various industries, including manufacturing.

Using the agile method and breaking down complex projects into smaller, manageable tasks allows for faster cycles of learning. The collaboration on these small teams enables the synthesis of ideas from various sources, leading to innovative solutions that may not have emerged otherwise. It provides opportunities to develop prototypes and gather customer feedback.

Agile R&D embraces change, empowering R&D teams to make data-driven decisions throughout the development process, pushing forward to the market phase.

Empowering teams for success

At the core of an agile R&D approach lies the empowerment of teams. Agile principles encourage decentralization of decision-making, allowing teams to take ownership and accountability for their projects. The freedom to make decisions, with defined parameters, fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership among team members.

When we empower our teams, we unleash their creative and innovative potential. Autonomy, combined with an environment that encourages open communication, allows team members to feel safe experimenting, taking risks, and sharing their learnings. Creating this collaborative and empowering culture can boost motivation, engagement, and productivity, resulting in quicker problem solving, which will ultimately create better product solutions more quickly.

Accelerating time-to-market

One of the primary advantages of adopting agile R&D in ceramics manufacturing is the significant reduction in time-to-market for new products. By the time a traditional, lengthy R&D process reaches its conclusion, customer needs may have shifted, driving a new cycle of development toward new customer requirements.

Agile principles allow for early detection of potential roadblocks. Small teams may then investigate multiple parallel solutions. The ability to pivot quickly based on market feedback ensures the greatest likelihood of success, minimizing financial risks and maximizing returns on investment.

Embracing change

Agile R&D is more than a methodology; it is a transformative force at CoorsTek. We recognize that innovation is not a solo endeavor; it flourishes when nurtured in a collaborative ecosystem. Tight connectedness with our customers ensures that the vision for our products aligns closely with customer needs, while also taking advantage of the collective wisdom and insights of our team members, to move the R&D process ahead to the market phase.

By embracing cross-functional teams, customer-centricity, and a willingness to quickly experiment, learn, and experiment again, we accelerate time-to-market for new products, respond effectively to market demands, and drive sustainable business growth.

About the author:
Andy Thomas is vice president of research and development at CoorsTek, Inc. (Golden, Colo.). Contact

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