Recently our company published a poll online offering up the following question for the medical device community:
“What is the most important factor to consider when developing a medical device product?”
At the close of the poll dozens of people had cast their votes for what they believed to be the factors affecting product development the most. The poll options included:
If you have been in industry for any length of time you know there are dozens of factors which can and often have a direct impact on the product development process. While there are dozens to consider, such as PRS (Product Requirement Specification), planning, user experience, DFM, etc. what we know to be true is each of these factors carry varying weights of impact. They are not all equal in measure or influence.
As our poll launched and picked up steam one of the four factors listed as an option began to take a commanding lead. The respondents, who are largely made up of medical device professionals and executives, had identified a common factor which stood above the rest in its ability to impact positively or negatively the product development process.
What was this most important factor?
Would you have guessed ‘Having the Right Team in Place’ is the number one factor which determines success when developing a medical device product?
‘Having the Right Team in Place’ was identified by 51% of the respondents as being the most important factor which directly contributes to the success of medical device product development. The other options broke down as follows:
Simply put – having the right team in place covers all of the other areas that potentially could produce challenges during the product development cycle. Whereas the inverse is certainly all too true. When we have the wrong team in place, or teammates lacking the capabilities to facilitate their job as needed by the company, inevitably problems go arise which hold back otherwise good opportunities and technology offerings.
Jim Collins, celebrated author (books like ‘Good to Great’ & ‘Built to Last’) and business management guru, is quoted as saying “Leaders of great companies start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
What this means is it’s more about the people than it is the technology or problem you’re solving. This is an important lesson, especially for first time entrepreneurs and startup executives. You can have the best product idea in the world, one that is in high demand, but if you don’t have the right team in place you’ll most likely spin your wheels while blowing out copious amounts of money in the process.
We’ve also seen this reality in person dozens of times. As a medical device consulting firm we work with a lot of companies, both start up and conglomerate alike. One of the consistent characteristics we see within the companies which are able to drive success, often times repeated success, is their management team is comprised of experts in their particular field who know how to both lead and operate in the weeds. They both strategic and tactical, able to plan for the long term while addressing todays shorter term needs. As a result, they know how the job is done and therefore can either lead or delegate those tasks helping to guide their department or team to successful completion.
When you have the right people on the team (your bus) you will then find opportunities (the medical problem you’ll solve) to move forward with. Following this process you’ll also have a far better chance of facilitating that opportunity through the development process and into commercialization, or acquisition.
Remediation in the medical device industry often adopts a similar saying you’ll hear motorcyclists say when referencing laying their bikes down [accidents], “it’s not if it will happen, it’s when”.
With so many companies over the years going through major remediation efforts one would think by now most people in the business would have a good appreciation for what a successful process looks like to navigate through FDA remediation projects. Yet, many people will tell you the remediation projects they’ve been a part of were messy, unorganized and a galactic waste of money. Unfortunately, when we’re faced with remediation there is no choice other than to mend our broken wings before flying home for the summer.
One of the biggest issues with remediation projects is many people in the company look at it as a ‘quality’ issue. Meaning, “it’s the quality departments problem, let them deal with it because we have our own projects and deadlines.” Shocking as this may be, I literally was told this several years ago from an R&D Director whose company was going through a sizable remediation overhaul. Needless to say he wasn’t operating as a team player and certainly wasn’t aligned with what was best for the company.
Which sparks an interesting question – if I have a remediation project ready to get underway, what are the things I can do in order to ensure it succeeds? Regardless of the project size, these are the four things you must consider as a top priority in your next remediation effort:
1.Establish clear, consistent and easy internal communication protocol for the project
This is one of the most overlooked parts of a large scale project. It’s especially important when considering cross functional company divisions and the people accountable to working towards successful completion. When people are misinformed or don’t know what’s going on you can be certain it will slow your project down and cause further product quality and procedural issues down the road.
2.Get a GREAT ‘lobbyist’
You’ll need someone acting as the liaison between your company and the FDA. Typically, this person comes from your QA/ RA group, but is that the right person? Don’t assume your de facto executive in QA / RA is the best for the job. Ensure your company aligns itself with a proven individual who has relationships within the FDA and knows how to play the game. This will pay off huge dividends in the end as they’ll know how to navigate delicate situations, get continuances and or leniencies where able.
3.Ensure your entire company (especially executive management) is onboard
Everyone in the organization, bottom up, needs to understand why this project just went to the top of the work list. Everyone needs to be bought in and rowing in the same direction, otherwise you’ll experience cumbersome internal issues as mentioned above, which waste time, money and energy.
4.Learn how to manage cost early on
Often companies will use a consulting group to lead or help work through their remediation efforts. All to often the selection process for that supplier comes down to a key relationship within the company which basically side tracks any formal vetting process of other possible suppliers. Cost becomes a 2nd or 3rd consideration over a relationship. This can be disastrous as selecting the wrong supplier to help you with a remediation project can end up costing you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars extra down the road. Case in point – when you use suppliers that fly in consultants to project work you are literally paying more than double the cost for that service just because those resources weren’t local. Flights, housing, food, per diems, auto travel, etc. adds up incredibly fast. I’ll admit, sometimes the best solution is an out of town supplier, however be sure to do your homework here before you settle on the one supplier that’s going to get your company back on track.
Key Take Away:
If you’re heading into a FDA remediation project it is paramount to set up a company wide communication protocol which provides detail to everyone
Remember – it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’re stuck going through FDA remediation. Therefore, you must be proactive. Before you need the help, begin compiling data on suppliers that could help with a possible remediation projects. Compare their capabilities, learn how they would approach a potential project, how do they charge, etc. Once you’ve done your homework you’ll then have all the necessary information upfront to make a strategic and informed decision when it comes time to dive into remediation.
[Note] this article intentionally does not cover the tactical approaches to FDA remediation as there are hundreds of articles and sources providing that information. This article covers the intangible parts of projects of this nature, the ones that most often go overlooked.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.