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Letting Go: What a director of Hospice taught a group of 35 managers of innovation about new product development.
June 4, 2006

AMI (Association for Managers of Innovation) is a 27 year old affinity group for people who manage the innovation process in organizations founded by Stan Gryskiewicz and hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership.

In March 2006 Fr. Thomas Stella addressed the spring meeting of the AMI. As director of Hospice in Colorado Springs he was asked to talk about the process of dying from his unique perspective. The AMI members were then asked to make links from his presentation to the process of ending the product development life cycle.

Several months earlier, the AMI membership had identified the end stage of the product development cycle as one unsatisfactory link in the innovation process because of the impact on finite resource issues such as time, people, and money.

I decided to look to turn to the Positive Turbulence process as a source of new ideas and perspective since the innovation profession had not found satisfactory answers to this long-standing problem. We could not identify any particular industry that was skilled in this stage of the innovation process so we turned outward towards the periphery of our understanding. The identified source for PT was an expert in a related field where “letting go” is the primary focus and not just one step in a product development cycle.

As a result of a sixty-minute session listening to Fr. Stella tell about is experience of letting go in the death and dying process at hospice, the AMI membership generated 31 ideas that seemed to cluster into three themes when reviewed and sorted by the author. The three themes are: Letting Go, Preserving Brand Quality/Image, and Reframing the Process.

Letting Go

  • Let a new product run its course in a planned manner from the start of the product cycle to the end.
  • Make explicit the stages of this planned process e.g. denial, depression, anger, acceptance.
  • The final stage of letting go or ending a product’s life is a valid alternative that needs legitimization just as any alternative to act or proceed with the new product.
  • Consider advanced directives, conditions that merit the ending of a products life.
  • Use multiple stakeholders (generational differences and tenure differences of team members) to review the advanced directives and then make the decision.

Brand Quality/Image

  • The potential loss of product dignity if a product is maintained past its effective lifetime.
  • Recognize that there is a cycle for new products. Some have to leave to make room for others. Team members must be good stewards of finite or limited resources.
  • Recognize and let go of one mature S curve to have the resources to begin another.
  • Weigh the demise of certain individual products or product idea against the survival of the entire company.

Reframe the Process

  • Step outside and look at the entire portfolio of new products.
  • Change has become the name of the new product game. As the product life cycle shortens, product life cycle planning (including termination) becomes even more important.
  • Reframe product termination (death) as bad to termination is right for the company.
  • Celebrate the products death just as ardently as the new product’s launch e.g. what lessons did we learn?
  • Remove fear of the unknown from death. What’s left is excitement, the next adventure.

One example is a pharmaceutical company who actually celebrates the death of compounds that do not survive empirical scrutiny by burying them in small boxes with head stones having the compounds formula written on the stone.

Or more recently from a autobiographical book of the pending death of the 53 the year-old Chairman and CEO of KPMG Eugene O'Kelly entitled Chasing Daylight (2006).

"It's a blessing. It's a curse. It’s what you get for saying hello to people. At some point, a good-bye is coming, too."

Perhaps these ideas from the periphery and the process of positive turbulence will provide you with some insight into this important part of the product development process and "letting go." Let us know what you do.


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