The End-to-End Product Development Process

Bringing new products to market is expensive—and risky! Coming up with product ideas may be the easy part. Turning those ideas into a profitable product takes time, effort, and money. Figure 4.9 shows the process that most companies use to take the guesswork (and costs) out of product development. The process consists of five phases—each designed to help you refine product concepts and assess their true customer appeal. The sooner you can determine a product isn't viable, the earlier you can "kill" it, allowing you to focus scarce resources on the most attractive concepts. The product development process acts a lot like a funnel: You pour a lot of ideas in, but only the best come out. Let's briefly review the five phases of the NPD process.

Figure 4.9: The New Product Development Process
  • Phase 1: Screening/Scoping. During screening/scoping, you ask two simple questions. First, does the product really fit your product strategy? Second, will the product meet the competitive test? That is, will it offer customers something that existing (or expected) products don't?

  • Phase 2: Business Case Analysis. During business case analysis (BCA), you assess the product's market potential. You ask, "Do expected sales, growth, and profit justify the investment?" Performing a BCA is often tedious. But you need to weed out as many money-losing ideas as possible at this stage. Your costs go up dramatically in Phase 3: Development.

  • Phase 3: Development. During development, you move from digital modeling to physical prototypes; that is, working models of your product. As your product comes to life, you get a better sense of how it will really work in the hands of your customers. You will also be able to better assess what it will really cost to produce and deliver to market.

  • Phase 4: Test and Validate. During testing, you make final product tweaks and introduce the product to your customer—often in a test market. This is your final opportunity to make a go/no-go decision before making the major investments required to launch the product.

  • Phase 5: Launch. During launch, you develop and execute marketing, production, and distribution plans. The goal: Generate and fill demand. You finally get to find out what kind of an ROI all of your hard work will deliver!

Stage Gates

Great companies generate a lot of new product ideas. Having looked at the statistics, however, you know that only a few products will ever succeed in the market. Fewer than 20% make it past Phase 1: Product Screening. Worse, as long as a concept is being evaluated, it is eating up scarce resources. To preserve resources and strengthen your overall development efforts, you need to identify the weak concepts and remove them from the development pipeline as soon as possible. To do this, you need to put "stage gates" in place—and then use them! Many companies lack the discipline to do this.

Figure 4.10 depicts the NPD process with gates. Each stage gate is more than a product review; it is a decision point. Your goal: Discuss the brutal facts and make the tough go/kill decisions on each product concept. A stage gate scorecard like that shown in Table 4.3 can help you evaluate individual concepts and prioritize them within your portfolio.

Figure 4.10: The NPD Process with Stage Gates
Table 4.3
A Simplified Sample Stage Gate Scorecard
Must Meet Criteria Evaluation Decision Rule
Fits product strategy Yes No If no, kill
Technical feasibility Yes No If no, kill
Positive return-to-risk ratio Yes No If no, kill
Should Meet Criteria Evaluation Decision Rule
Product Advantage 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Market Attractiveness
  • Market Size
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Market Growth
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Marketing Portfolio Effects
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Manufacturing Economies
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Financial Considerations
  • Expected Profitability (NPV)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Certainty of return
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Total Score Possible: 7-70 Compare to other concepts to prioritize investment

Sequential versus Concurrent NPD

Bringing new products to market is a cross-functional capability. Almost everyone within the firm touches and influences the process—and the resulting product. Two design approaches exist: Sequential Design and Concurrent Design.

Sequential Design

In the old days (1990s), most companies managed NPD in a sequential manner (see Figure 4.11). Let's talk through the process, imagining you work in marketing. After you ideate and conceptualize a potential new product, you throw the concept over the proverbial wall to R&D. As R&D reviews your concept, managers grumble that you haven't thought things through the way you should have. They might even throw it back, asking you clarify a key point or modify the concept before they are willing to develop detailed product designs.

Figure 4.11: Sequential, Functionally Oriented Product Design Process

Once R&D completes its work, you guessed it, they toss the designs over the wall to operations, saying, "Here you go, make this." Operations managers look at the designs, sigh deeply, and say, "Those guys are clueless. They've never made anything in their lives. This can't be done." After some back and forth between operations and R&D (and maybe marketing again), the product finally gets made.

Unfortunately, every time a product is tossed from one function to the next, costs go up and product launch is delayed. Sequential development makes bringing great new products to market faster than rivals and at the low costs customers demand difficult—if not impossible. In the 1990s, U.S. carmakers used this sequential approach. The result: GM needed 36-months (or more) to bring a new model to market. Toyota and Honda, by contrast, employed a concurrent approach, shaving 12-18 months off the NPD development process.

Let's emphasize one point about a sequential, functionally oriented process. Different functional perspectives can be a blessing or a curse. In a sequential setting, they are typically a curse. Steve Jobs described the curse as follows: "What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea… and the engineers go, "Nah, we can't do that, That's impossible." … the manufacturing people…go "We can't build that!" And it gets a lot worse."

Concurrent Design

If sequential product design is out of date and out of touch, how do high-leverage innovators manage NPD? They employ concurrent engineering—a concept they borrowed from Honda and Toyota. Simply put, high-leverage innovators build cross-functional teams so that important decisions can be made collaboratively (see Figure 4.12). When managers from marketing, R&D, and manufacturing are all sitting around the same CAD (computer-aided-design) workstation, they no longer need to throw a new product "concept" back and forth over functional walls.

Figure 4.12: Concurrent, Team-Oriented Product Design Process

The team-based approach leverages different functional perspectives. Product and process maps include real performance data creating visibility and enabling fact-based discussions, making it easier for managers to challenge one another's thinking and to confrot the brutal facts. Confronting the brutal facts early in the process makes the stage-gate process work. The bottom line: Working as a team and sticking to the facts eliminates surprises, keeps the design process on track, reduces costs, and speeds new products to market.

Team Composition

A critical question to ask is, "Who should be on the team?" The cast of characters discussed above—marketing, R&D/engineering, and operations—are the core members of the NPD team (see Table 4.4). Who else should be on the team? Consider the following:

  • Finance. Financial analysts are commonly invovled. Their job is to evaluate the ROI implications of design decisions.

  • Purchasing. Purchasing managers also play a key role on an NPD team now that many companies invite suppliers to participate in early stages of NPD. This practice is called early supplier involvement (ESI). Why invite suppliers? Suppliers bring key materials and technical expertise to concept evaluation. If you were to walk into the engineering design center at John Deere, you would find that seven of ten engineers actually worked for suppliers.1 Co-location at Deere's design center keeps all engineering talent on the same page, ensures the best ideas make it into each new product, and improves relationships.

  • Logistics. At many companies, logistics is the newest function to be invited to the NPD process. Logisticians help determine how changes in design will impact packaging and shipping costs.

Table 4.4
Members and Roles on a NPD Team
Members Contribution
Internal Members:
  • Marketing

Deep customer insight that leads to product ideas.
  • R&D / Engineering

Technical expertise needed to translate concepts into product/service designs.
  • Operations

Technical expertise needed to translate designs into an actual product/service.
  • Finance

Ability to assess financial viability.
  • Purchasing

Materials and supplier availability/capability knowledge. Liaison with suppliers.
  • Logistics

Feedback on packaging, transportation, and distribution issues.
External Members:
  • Customers

Feedback on design as well as how customers will actually use the product.
  • Suppliers

Technical expertise on alternative materials, processes, and technologies.

As you can see, each member of a NPD team brings complementary expertise to the NPD process. You can also imagine how bringing credible managers with diverse perspectives into the NPD process from the very beginning can generate more interesting ideas, challenge complacency, and reduce sloppy thinking. Although concurrent design can be chaotic, the outcome—high-quality products brought to market quickly—is typically worth the effort.

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