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Our healthcare clients do amazing work on complex designs with strict oversight and regulations – which are necessary to ensure medical products are safe and efficacious. But when we collaborate, our combined teams can greatly accelerate programmes, prompting the common question: “What are we doing to move so fast together?”

Having worked on hundreds of projects, we have seen some patterns that consistently help an innovation team move quickly. There are three common elements that support rapid progress:

  • Good project management processes and culture

  • A focus on resolving the programme unknowns through early prototyping and testing

  • Supportive quality management structures

Let’s look at each in of them in more detail.

Good project management processes and culture

Managers of fast and effective teams tend to ensure that there are four key building blocks:

  1. Feasible goals – ambitious goals are great but there should be a believable pathway and support that adapts to evidence to help reach the most important goals

  2. Trusted workstream leaders and decision makers – so informed decisions can be made rapidly, communicated effectively and not revisited unnecessarily

  3. Unanimous purpose – goals that are unambiguous, worthy and supported by key sponsors, whether driven by commercial pressures, new user and clinical insights or regulatory change

  4. A healthy tolerance for uncertainty – this enables ambition, empowers the team to identify and manage development risks as early as possible, and means that the team (and sponsors) are not easily discouraged by the slippery patches (unexpected learnings) that many fast projects hit.

Prototype early, often and at an appropriate fidelity

Creating and testing prototypes as early as possible drives learning and produces evidence and confidence for development decisions at every stage. By prototype, I mean any tangible embodiment of an idea from which we can gather realistic feedback. Getting creative prototypes (sketches, models, storyboards, interfaces, etc.) in front of users reveals insights and unforeseen variables, gets everyone on the same page about complex ideas and clarifies key assumptions. Doing this early, often and at appropriate fidelity to answer the questions at hand (starting with low fidelity and building from there) is critical to exploring the solution space fully, informing analysis and sidestepping cycles of deliberation. By focusing on key uncertainties, iterations of prototypes will avoid delays and the cost overruns often caused by ‘sweeping these difficulties under the carpet’.

Supportive quality management system

It’s important to design quality management structures that support the first two elements –  as well as helping to assure the quality of your deliverables and supporting the building of your design history file for regulatory compliance. For example, can teams support the manufacture of short-run prototypes for testing in a clinical environment? Can the creation of ‘design inputs’ evolve with evidence from prototype testing? Are there protocols for non-clinical user studies that do not have significant risks? Does properly referenced documentation enable you to adopt evidence-based changes without massive documentation rework? Processes that insist on a ‘right first time’ project structure will typically restrict speed and slow the pace of learning without improving specifications in the end.

These three elements will come more naturally to some – but we believe that any organisation can adapt these insights gradually into their own innovation approach. Give it a try!

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