Let's face it: Getting a product to market is difficult whether you are a struggling startup or an established original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Understanding some of the pitfalls on the front end of product development might help you avoid downstream problems, before they become time and money wasters.
Many companies, when they near the end of the engineering phase, keeping tweaking the product "just one more time" before letting it go into production. Someone thinks of a better option for a component so that is implemented. Then someone thinks of another idea, so that is developed and implemented before release. The intent is good: Make the product better, faster, or cheaper. A good exploratory phase will help you avoid this problem.
It will be important to do lots of sketches and rough mockups (or ‘protocepts'), which is followed by talking through each one with the extended team. Discuss the pros and cons of each idea, evaluate how they meet the design criteria, and then go outside your immediate circle and talk to users and key stakeholders.
You will never eliminate all changes at the end of the development cycle, but if you pay due diligence early on, your downstream delays should be greatly reduced. There will always be change, but there will be less change, if you use a thorough exploratory phase.
Going to market with a faster horse
Is this the ideal scenario? Your product design goes swimmingly, design and engineering have few disagreements, and even the production guys have almost no complaints about manufacturing snafus when building the product - and you actually delivered without exceeding time and budget constraints.
Things are going great!
You'll probably get a huge raise and soon be running the company. But after several months, reality hits. Product sales are dismal and no matter what marketing does, the product is not widely adopted. Why? Because the product is not what the market really wanted in the first place.
Conducting thorough design research that includes usability and human factors may have prevented this from happening.
Many companies make the mistake of believing that voice of the customer (VOC) exercises are enough. However, remember what Henry Ford so famously said: "If I had done what my customers asked for, I would have made a faster horse."
Customers can tell you what they think and feel about a product but they cannot tell you what the product should be. That's your job.
Take user thoughts and feelings and translate them into actionable solutions or design inputs. Too often, developers simply act directly on the ideas users spit out, and it is often not the optimum solution.
I have heard of more than one story where, during validation testing, it is discovered that users don't like the product. Again, you are stuck at the end of the cycle. Good design research can make a big difference.
Developing "me too" products
Everyone struggles with how to make their products different or better than the competitions. Solution? Just make the same thing. Or similar enough without infringing on patent rights. So what you have is a "me too" product that looks the same, works the same, and, for all intents and purposes, is the same as your competitors.
Maybe there is one added feature that gets you around the patent issue, but it's a marketing problem. Right? Wrong.
Companies often don't know how to handle the very earliest stages of product development that include brainstorming and ideation, which is where innovation can propel you past the competition, instead of just copying them.
But you need to do it correctly in a way that yields truly creative results that will leapfrog the competition. For effective brainstorming and ideation, you need to, among other things, invite a cross-disciplined team, have a moderator, have a recorder, and limit such meetings to 40 minute sessions. This is just scratching the surface of effective brainstorming. (For more information on effective brainstorming, visit KablooeU.com and look under "Enlightened Innovators.")
The truth is: Getting new products to market will always be a struggle.
But if you create a thorough exploratory phase, invest upfront in design research, and utilize effective brainstorming techniques, then your struggles will be diminished and, hopefully, you will save lots of time and money on the backend. Most importantly, you will deliver truly innovative products that will make a big market impact that benefits both your career and your company.
Tom Kramer is passionate about making ideas become reality. You can find him either at Kablooe Design, helping his customers develop the latest and greatest products, or speaking at various industry events on innovation and optimizing the product development process.[images via pixabay.com]
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