By Chris Danek, Bessel LLC
It’s a new year! And after many years of disruption and uncertainty, we are ready for a new beginning. Our medical device teams also deserve a fresh start. Probably, some of your teams are in crisis. They have felt the brunt of staffing challenges, major technological change, a competitive market, personal turmoil and an unpredictable economy. How can medtech leaders give teams what they need?
The answer: back to basics. Work on the fundamentals to help teams move forward. This article will share practical tips to align and guide your development teams to help them reach their full potential in 2023.
1. Reconnect As A Team
Take time with your team to reconnect. Let everyone share how they are doing and their feelings about their role and the team’s performance. Even a seemingly healthy team may have hidden problems seeping through that could compromise performance later.
Many teams fall into the trap of thinking that team connections remain consistent throughout the life of a project. But in reality, the personal and professional situation of each member of the team, and the context of the team in the organization, are subject to change. Those changes affect team dynamics. For example, consider whether team members’ performance and professional goals have changed. Do these new goals align with the team’s top performance, or does the team need to adjust? To become and remain a high-performing team, members not only need to care about each other; they need to be aware and adjust to fluid team dynamics.
Reconnecting as a team will put you on a solid path for the new year and ensure that each member feels empowered and aligned with the overall goals of the team.
2. Take a new look at obstacles
A new year is your chance to wipe the slate clean and look at your team’s work with fresh eyes. As a team, ask yourself, “If we were a new team starting to tackle this project, what would we do?”
Often teams feel trapped by perceived restrictions. But what would happen if these limitations were relaxed or removed? What limitations are assumptions that can be challenged and redefined?
Here are two examples of questions to stimulate your thinking:
- How would we approach this challenge differently if our project deadlines were pushed back?
- What are we most worried about getting wrong? What can we do now? What resources will we need to avoid those worst outcomes?
Taking a fresh look doesn’t mean dropping everything and starting over. context matters; the path that the team has taken and the limitations on your work are real. But this thought experiment helps the team surface new ideas and approaches and priorities based on their impact and the difficulty of implementing them. And sometimes, thinking creatively about the constraints will help the team to offer concrete solutions to the managers when thinking about additional resources.
Another benefit of a neat thought experiment? It helps the team create a new decision-making paradigm. Luis Baez, senior director of innovation at Johnson & Johnson Medtech, encourages his teams to focus on the contrast between “What’s right” and “What’s right, now.” “What is right” is the ideal solution that provides the needs of the user in the context of design controls, risk management and the voice of the business. But on the way to deliver that ideal solution in the “right” way, the team will have to make countless decisions and choose the path that is “right, now.” The team learns more and faster when it pursues discovery and learning that answers the question, “What is good, now?” This mindset will help the team find the right balance between speed and refinement in prototyping, analysis and testing.
3. Implement Team Mentorship
I didn’t always understand the power of giving guidance to medical device project teams. But, i could intuitively identify the teams that worked better than others. And I could feel the magic when I was in a great team: our common goal, the way we work together, and our results aligned.
I felt that magic during my first successful project management role. One of the keys to our success was the mentorship the team received from a vice president of R&D. He guided the team on how we organized, worked together and set goals.
Later in my career, I began to wonder: How do you replicate a thriving culture and build teams that people don’t want to leave? I had another “aha” moment when an external consultant came in to work across the team and organization to help deliver an ambitious next generation product. I realized that she was doing something broader than one-on-one coaching. I saw his work with the functional leaders of the core of the team, senior managers and project managers in the company to help the team to surface the key risks, identify the friction between the functional goals of the members of the heart and the progress of the team, and identify the solutions. That’s when I learned about “team mentors”. Unlike one-on-one mentors, team mentors work with a whole team to help them work together and reach their common goals.
How can you implement team mentoring and give your team guidance? First, think about what your team needs. So, identify a trusted person with the right domain expertise and experience to help your team stay on track, keep their goals in sight, and achieve those goals in the best way possible. Every team deserves a great mentor – a guide who works with the team to promote its success.
4. Establish Guiding Lights
We talked about giving your team connection, fresh eyes and powerful mentors. But once you dig into the details of the day’s work, how do you make sure the team maintains a shared vision? My answer: use driving lights. Create a shared vision that is specific enough to guide team members’ work and decisions on a day-to-day basis and that defines success at a granular level. What is the ideal solution? What are the must-haves that will shape the product design?
Guiding lights keep a medtech team aligned to the core product development vision. They help a team answer questions along the way, make decisions quickly, and prioritize their work. Guiding lights inform the technical team’s design intent, design concept evaluation, and every other aspect of the project.
Sometimes they are quite specific: “The system must have a total dead space volume of less than 10% of the patient’s tidal volume.”
And sometimes they are more ambiguous: “The tip must have a friendly insertion profile.”
What these two recent leading lights of the real world have in common is that for their projects, they have guided the designs and exchange decisions that have affected many aspects of their development programs.
If you’re working on a project team that seems to be drifting or going off course, ask yourself: What are our guiding lights?
5. Implement the signs of Agile work
Great medical device teams are intentional about how they work together. Often, they follow the tried and true practices of agile working. These hallmarks of agile work help teams strive toward maximum performance, and are simple for any team to put in place:
- TRUST: Make sure each team member is accountable for a meaningful contribution to the team and that everyone has a voice that the team hears.
- THINK: Separate work planning from doing. Make sure the team members who are responsible for the work have a clear understanding of what success means before starting.
- SPEAKING: Communicate often, at least daily, about what’s going on, what teammates need from each other, and ways the team can accelerate.
- TIME BOX: Create a rhythm and pace of execution by creating a release schedule and iterating your product in fixed time increments. Think of timeboxing as scheduling innovation.
Try these, and strengthen your team and see a boost in performance.
The new year is an opportunity to set your project teams up for success. Strengthen your team’s connections. Look at your projects with fresh eyes. Bring the power of a team mentor. Improve everyday decision-making with guiding lights. And take back control of your team’s time by increasing productivity through agile teamwork. Whether your team is already successful and wants to improve or is struggling and needs improvement, you can put these practical ideas into action.
About the author:
Chris Danek is the CEO of Bessel LLC. He is a serial entrepreneur and life sciences industry veteran. At Bessel, he works with entrepreneurs, startup companies, and established company teams to develop advanced medical device technologies. In previous roles, he was co-founder and CEO of AtheroMed (now Philips AtheroMed) and VP of R&D at Asthmatx (acquired by Boston Scientific). He is a visiting professor at the WM Keck Center for 3D Innovation at the University of Texas at El Paso, an advisor at the Santa Clara University Healthcare Innovation and Design Lab, and an inventor on more than 80 US patents.