In this article originally published by MedCity News, Gerald Kent, Vice President of Diagnostics at Invetech, discusses how diagnostic startups can foster innovation and create value through strategic program management.

Q. What do you see as key aspects of creating a solid product development plan and timeline for diagnostics companies?

Gerald Kent, Vice President, Diagnostics

A development plan really starts with the commercialization strategy and the business model and understanding how the product fits within that ecosystem. From there, the priorities and the capabilities the diagnostics company currently has and still needs to build will help determine what they should do internally and where they may need help. Each product and each company is different, so the product development path should be adapted to suit these needs.

At Invetech, we have established a robust process from product concept through to transfer to manufacture that takes into account the required regulatory framework within which IVD products must comply. However, we also know that the development strategy ultimately needs to support what the diagnostics company wants to achieve.

Some of the factors that need to be considered when establishing a product development strategy include the maturity of the company, their strengths, weaknesses, which capabilities they plan on developing themselves and which ones they may outsource, who the stakeholders and investors are, and what the business growth strategy is. The key point is that asking the right questions from the start and working with diagnostics companies to provide such insight allows us to create a development strategy in consultation with our clients that balances their needs with the inherent uncertainty of new product development.

Q. When developing products, what are some of the ways startups can build confidence with investors?

From the discussions we have had with a lot of startup companies, credibility is important. This credibility is built from the background of the founders, its board and the market opportunity.

Given the inherent risks in new technology, demonstrating the technical feasibility and partnering with a credible development partner with a solid track record of delivering also helps give investors confidence.

Investment companies also tell us that they look for technologies that are scalable either via a roadmap or through different applications. We take the view, particularly for startups, that an efficient means to demonstrate technology readiness positions them for success and increases the likelihood of them getting to market.

Q. As part of the product development planning process, how do you approach identifying and understanding risk?

Because we deal with a lot of new technologies and our clients have progressed the development to varying levels of maturity before they engage with us, we really need to understand where the challenges might be. In the first instance, we have a lot of experience we can draw on to assess where the riskiest parts of the development might be.

Chemistry and detection technologies quite often create both hardware and software complexity which can be difficult to predict. Leveraging our experience is important here, but we also know that two key facets of managing these challenges mean we need to translate the technical and project risk into something tangible to our clients’ business, and when we do that we can generate concepts and make trade-offs in collaboration with them.

“It’s easy to get caught up in everything that can possibly go wrong, but if we focus on the factors that might cause significant foundation changes up front, the smaller ones can more easily be dealt with along the way.”  

Foundation or architectural risk in the early stages is important to consider. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that can possibly go wrong, but if we focus on the factors that might cause significant foundation changes up front, the smaller ones can more easily be dealt with along the way.

Q. What are some of the ways you can support innovation over the course of a project’s execution?

A culture of innovation includes a focus on understanding the problem space before diving into solutions, an ability to learn through iterative concepts and prototypes, and collaboration. At Invetech, we encourage rapid experimentation and the use of fast fail methodologies to stimulate innovation.

One of the first things we do with our clients in any project is to have our experience design (XD) and innovation consulting team conduct a discovery effort to define the context of use. The team observes end users in their work environment to discover insights that lead to product differentiation. As part of the process, the team builds mock-ups to test and iterate design concepts to observe what works well and where friction may exist. This approach combines design, cognitive science and engineering to uncover new ideas and improve design concepts with methodology that will lead to product innovation.

A culture of innovation includes a focus on understanding the problem space before diving into solutions, an ability to learn through iterative concepts and prototypes, and collaboration.”

Q. What would you say are important considerations in effective program management from a team leadership perspective?

I would say, assuming of course that the technical and planning skills are sound, an effective program manager is a strategic program manager. For that to happen, there are three key strengths they need to have.

Firstly, they need to be effective leaders – able to establish a vision and mobilize teams to achieve it. They need to identify the needs of the team and establish a support structure to enable them and build the necessary tools and skills required within the team.

Secondly, they need to have managerial courage. The courage to identify problems and change course when necessary, the courage to make decisions that others are either not willing to make or may not support.

Thirdly, they need to be adaptable. Our client business situations change, and new information emerges on a daily basis. A program manager who is able to adapt to the change helps ensure that the team is constantly adding value.

Q. What sets Invetech apart in how you work with clients to deliver product development success?

Our teams make a personal investment in what our clients are trying to achieve and make a genuine effort to not only understand what is critical to our client’s business success, but also place high value in developing solutions and approaches in collaboration with our clients. For this to happen there needs to be transparency in the challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead so that the best decisions can be made moving forward.