5 Strategies To Kickstart Your Medical Device Project Teams In 2023
By Chris Danek, Bessel LLC
It’s a new year! And after several years of disruption and uncertainty, we’re ready for a fresh start. Our medical device teams deserve a fresh start, too. Chances are, some of your teams are in crisis. They’ve felt the crush of staffing challenges, major technological change, a competitive marketplace, personal turmoil, and an unpredictable economy. How can medtech leaders give teams what they need?
The answer: go back to basics. Work on the fundamentals to help teams move forward. This article will share practical tips for aligning and guiding 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 team that seems healthy can have hidden issues percolating that could compromise performance later.
Many teams fall into the trap of thinking that team connections stay consistent throughout a project’s lifespan. But in reality, each team member’s personal and professional situation, and the team’s context within the organization, are subject to change. Those changes affect the team dynamics. For example, consider whether team members' performance and professional goals have shifted. Do those new goals align with peak team performance, or does the team need to adjust? To become and stay a high-performing team, members don’t just need to care about each other; they need to be aware of and adjust to fluid team dynamics.
Reconnecting as a team will put you on a steady path for the new year and ensure each member feels empowered and aligned with the team’s overall goals.
2. Take A Fresh Look At Obstacles
A new year is your chance to clean the slate and look at your team’s work with fresh eyes. As a team, ask, “If we were a brand-new team just starting to tackle this project, what would we do?”
Often teams feel trapped by perceived constraints. But what would you do if those constraints were relaxed or removed? Which constraints are assumptions that can be challenged and redefined?
Here are two example 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 going wrong? What could we do about it now? What resources would we need to avoid those worst-case outcomes?
Taking a fresh look doesn’t mean dropping everything and starting over. Context matters; the path the team has taken and the constraints on your work are real. But this thought experiment helps the team surface new ideas and approaches and prioritize them based on their impact and difficulty to implement. And sometimes, thinking creatively about constraints will help the team offer concrete solutions to leaders when they do consider additional resources.
Another benefit of a clean-slate 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’s right” is the ideal solution that delivers on user needs within the context of design controls, risk management, and the voice of the business. But along the way to delivering that ideal solution in the “right” way, the team will need to make countless decisions and choose the path that’s “right, now.” The team learns more and faster when it pursues discovery and learning that answers the question, “What’s right, now?” This mindset will help the team strike 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 medical device project teams a guide. But, I could intuitively spot teams that worked better than others. And I could feel the magic when I was on a great team: our shared purpose, the way we worked together, and our results lined up.
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 started 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 us deliver an ambitious next-generation product. I realized that she was doing something broader than one-to-one coaching. I saw her work with the core team functional leads, senior leadership, and project managers in the company to help the team surface key risks, identify friction between core team members’ functional goals and team progress, and identify solutions. That’s when I learned about “team mentors.” Unlike one-to-one mentors, team mentors work with an entire team to help them work together and reach their shared goals.
How can you put team mentorship into practice and give your team a guide? First, think about what your team needs. Then, identify a trusted person with the right domain expertise and experience to help your team stay on track, keep its goals in sight, and achieve those goals in the best way possible. Every team deserves a great mentor — a guide that works with the team to promote its success.
4. Establish Guiding Lights
We’ve talked about giving your team connection, fresh eyes, and powerful mentors. But once they dig into the day-to-day details of the work, how do you ensure the team keeps a shared vision? My answer: use guiding lights. Create a shared vision that is specific enough to guide the work and decisions of the team members on a day-to-day basis and that defines success at a granular level. What does the ideal solution look like? What are the must-haves that will shape the product design?
Guiding lights keep a medtech team aligned on 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, the design concept’s 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 real-world guiding lights have in common is that for their projects, they guided designs and trade-off decisions that affected multiple aspects of their development programs.
If you’re working on a project team that seems adrift or is going off-course, ask yourself: What are our guiding lights?
5. Implement The Hallmarks Of Agile Work
Great medical device teams are intentional about how they work together. Often, they follow the tried-and-true practices of agile work. These hallmarks of agile work help teams strive toward peak performance, and they’re simple for any team to put into place:
- TRUST: Make sure that every team member is accountable for a meaningful contribution to the team and that everyone has a voice that the team hears.
- THINK: Separate the planning of work from the doing. Make sure the team members who are responsible for the work have a clear understanding of what success means before they start.
- TALK: Communicate frequently, at least daily, about what is happening, what teammates need from each other, and ways the team can speed up.
- TIMEBOX: Create a rhythm and tempo of accomplishment by creating a release schedule and iterating your product in fixed time increments. Think of timeboxing as scheduling innovation.
Give these a try, and you will 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 in the power of a team mentor. Improve day-to-day decision-making with guiding lights. And take back control of your team’s time by boosting productivity through agile teamwork. Whether your team is already succeeding and wants to improve or is struggling and needs to improve, 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 veteran of the life sciences industry. At Bessel, he works with entrepreneurs, startup companies, and established company teams to develop breakthrough medical device technologies. In prior roles, he was cofounder 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 W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation at the University of Texas at El Paso, an advisor to the Santa Clara University Healthcare Innovation and Design Lab, and an inventor of over 80 U.S. patents.