Project engineers often spend weeks, if not months, waiting for management to formally approve a new project. Then, as soon as the green light is on, so is the pressure.
"The minute our executives say go and everyone is excited, a week later they come down and start asking us, 'okay, when are you going to do this? When can we get this product out?''" said Nikhil Murdeshwar, senior principal research engineer at Olympus Surgical Technologies America, referring to past experiences in the industry (not specific to his current company).
Murdeshwar is slated to speak at MD&M Minneapolis about managing a successful project, exceeding sales estimates, meeting launch commitments, innovating for success, and satisfying users.
"In our world of medical devices our intentions are to get these devices to the market quickly, but in doing that our industry forgets that we're working with people, and we're working with the FDA, so we want to make sure we do everything in a responsible way," Murdeshwar told MD+DI.
There are many instances in which once a project is finished, the team members never want to work together again because it was such a bad, and stressful, experience, he said. But there are instances when the opposite is true and the team can't wait to work together again.
"We have to be mindful and appreciate the people we work with ... so that we don't drive people out of the company, or out of the industry," Murdeshwar said.
Murdeshwar's presentation will include five specific tips for managing a successful project. Among them, is the idea that tools do not replace experience. By that, he means the experience gathered in the field during the research phase of a project.
He explained that on the business side of R&D there are a lot of estimations that must be made about the potential market size of the new product, potential sales, etc. In this day and age, it's all too tempting to turn to computer-aided design tools and spreadsheets to turn over those estimations quickly and from the comfort of your own cubical. But what happens when, down the road, you realize there is a huge gap between what you estimated and what you're actually seeing?
Ideally, when an engineer observes a problem, they develop a hypothesis, test it out, and develop a solution, Murdeshwar explained. Then it's time to sit down at the computer and use those tools to present the idea to the rest of the team and your superiors.
Someone who does not do that diligently would probably observe a problem, then run straight to their tools and present it to the team," he said.
The scary part is, in this fast-paced world of medical innovation, the company leaders may not have the time to question project leaders about how they came up with those estimates and whether or not they actually went out and talked to surgeons to inform the product design, Murdeshwar said. So it's up to the project engineers to ensure that the proper fieldwork has been done so that the company doesn't invest time and money into developing a device that surgeons won't even use.