“You’re not bringing that in the factory, have you even checked for allergens?”
“Don’t you know we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work?!”
“Nope, orders take priority, the trials cancelled”
Just a few of the phrases I remember being pretty much spat at me early in my career as Product Developer. I get it, everything that was being said was valid. I maybe should have checked that ingredient dec or the packaging archives to see if we had launched something previously… but… I was juggling at least 5 other projects and running from meeting to factory trial to customer visit and didn’t know my head from posterior most of the time!
The thing with working in Product Development that I never really appreciated back then, is that your role is about driving change, constantly. The majority of humans (and businesses) are resistant to change, which is why it feels like such an uphill battle – All. The. Time.
It does get easier with time as we pick up ways to influence better, pre-empt what’s going to be asked in the dreaded feasibility meetings and learn how to manage what comes up. But the pressure remains constant and you spend your whole time second guessing what might be asked or how someone in another department might catch you out next time. It can feel relentless.
Development teams are spread even more thinly these days
I remember in my early career there used to be temporary lulls in Development, albeit fleeting – that just does not happen in this day and age of tighter budgets and constant restructures. Development teams are spread even more thinly and expected to achieve more and more, as customer expectations increase year on year, striving to be the most innovative and meet their business KPI’s.
All, while being told “no” or “not yet” constantly by other departments.
Sometimes, it feels never ending. Actually most of the time.
Burnout is a real risk
I have seen too many talented young developers lose their confidence, self esteem and ultimately burnout or leave the industry all together as a result of the pace and environment they are faced with.
This, is why I believe more needs to be done to support Development teams in the Food industry. It has become a particular passion of mine as I have started to work with more Development teams through workshops and 1:1 coaching.
There are common themes
Here are there key themes that teams struggle with and are rarely taught how to handle (because frankly, their managers are also running around fire fighting and don’t have the time to coach and support their teams with this stuff)…
- Handling the constant set backs:- The constant “No’s” in meetings, the failed projects, trials and launches. The prospect that even if a product does launch, it’s statistically more likely to fail than not. For this stuff, you need real grit and resilience – which for a long time I thought were personality traits, but they’re not! They can be taught, and they can be learned. I wish that I had been taught about resilience and managing my emotions at work – if I had, I am pretty sure I would have avoided my catastrophic burnout (which you can read about here)
- Learning how to say No:- In NPD you hear ‘No’ a lot but as often creative and forward thinking types we can often get stuck in the trap of always saying “yes”. To every brief, project and even to organising lunches for meetings that are totally outside our remit. Pushing back is a skill that is lacking for so many young developers. This ultimately leads to lost time, efficiencies and ultimately burnout for some.
- Selling their ideas: “But I don’t want to sell, that’s commercials job, I just want to do the food bit!” is what I often hear but as the saying goes “Our very living is selling. We are all salespeople” ~James Cash Penney – the ability to sell our ideas to other people is fundamental to our success in any role but in NPD its super important, but again, rarely taught. The ability to create a compelling story around a product and sell it to internal and external stakeholders is paramount to success in NPD
- Dealing with stakeholders with more authority – I think more so than in other functions, we expose inexperienced team members to more senior internal and external stakeholders at a much earlier stage of their career. Presenting to an Exec team or a Senior Buyer can be absolutely terrifying, yet we seldom support the learning of how to present confidently and manage the voice in your head telling you that you don’t deserve to be there.
- Not enough hours in the day: Time Management is not an exclusively NPD issue but it is a particularly pertinent one. Critical paths are constantly being squeezed and the idea of prioritisation can feel farcical at times when everything on your To Do list feels urgent and important! Some of the skills I have already mentioned would help with overall time management – pushing back more, getting what you want out of meetings first time and nailing the brief without 10 resubmissions will all help. But when I look back, I wasn’t even taught the basics of time management and prioritisation until I was a good few years into my career!
This list is of course, by no means exhaustive and there are lots of other learning and development needs but these are the skills that can really make or break the success of an NPD team. This stuff doesn’t get talked about enough and can leave individuals crippled with self doubt and held back in their roles.
It’s not just you
This has been confirmed to me by the number of messages I get every day from listeners of the Oh for Food’s Sake podcast where we talk candidly about this stuff – “I thought it was just me” or “thank you for the hints and tips, I’ve been using them in meetings”
But teams deserve more than a few hints and tips on a podcast, which is why we developed our bespoke NPD upskilling workshops, that are not about how to build a recipe or do a costing but how to deal with the real life realities of dealing with difficult people and manage their time and resilience better.
They are not generic training courses – they are tailored to your teams needs and run by experienced facilitators with 20 years real life experience of working in NPD, Commercial and Marketing roles in the Food industry.
If you’d like more information on how we can help your teams build these skills (because we have been there and know that with the best will in the world, you don’t have time to do it yourself!) then get in touch. And if you’re reading this and thinking – OMG I need this for me, then I can help you too – I provide 1:1 coaching in these very areas too.
Email me: email@example.com or contact me via linkedin