BUFFALO, N.Y.—Designers at the Bridge the Gap Conference got a breezy, often humorous inside look at how Fisher-Price creates toys using cross-functional teams.
All businesses talk about the importance of new products, but the toy industry's appetite is voracious.
``We have to develop and deliver 140-160 new products a year. Each product has to be new and different from anything we've done before,'' said George Jamesson, Fisher Price's senior vice president of engineering.
To compound the challenge, Fisher-Price manufactures and sells toys around the globe. The company, No. 1 in infant and preschool products, employs more than 30 designers and reviews 6,000 potential new products a year, said Tina Zinter, design leader for the preschool products team. Half of the concepts come from Fisher-Price designers and half come from outside inventors.
Lisa MacPherson, team leader, marketing, said new toys account for 35 percent of Fisher-Price's U.S. sales and 50 percent of international sales.
But developing those new products from raw ideas—quickly — is a challenge, four Fisher-Price speakers said during a Sept. 5 session at the Buffalo conference.
About three years ago, Jamesson said, Fisher-Price reviewed the process, which had gotten bogged down as the company grew bigger.
``It became very bureaucratic. We found we had more and more management levels that we had to satisfy,'' Jamesson said.
Fisher-Price built a Team Center, a separate building at its East Aurora complex, to house five teams, one for each product category. Each team has representatives from design, engineering, planning, cost estimating and other areas.
MacPherson said the goal was to create innovative products much faster, boost quality while keeping costs under control and reduce paperwork and delays.
Consumer focus groups are a key part of the process. MacPherson described focus groups like this: ``We sit behind a wall of glass, scarfing up M&M's while a group of mothers tell us what they like and don't like about our products.''
Fisher-Price was a sponsor of the Bridge the Gap conference, held Sept. 4-6. Twenty Fisher-Price employees turned out, and the company hosted attendees for lunch and a tour at its East Aurora headquarters.
Where do toy makers get inspiration to create 150 new products a year? In East Aurora, they have the obligatory kiddie playroom with a two-way mirror. But Fisher-Price also gets its designers and engineers out of the office. Zinter showed slides of team members learning Indian dances and riding go-carts. ``We do things like that fairly regularly now,'' she said.