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How to Improve Product Development Processes

Product development is the lifeblood of companies. New services or products are the primary component for growth and improvement of the business and help companies stay relevant by offering new value to their customers.

It is not surprising then that nearly 30% of industry-leading manufacturing companies say that improving product development is crucial to keep up with the global competition. 

 

How are your product development processes doing?

Improving product development should make it more effective as well. Elements surrounding the process are always changing, through new technologies, new organizational structures, or new regulations. Reviewing the process frequently and improving as needed is an effective way to stay ahead of these changes and increase user acceptance and adoption.

Below, I will share 5 tips that will ease your efforts working towards improving product development.

 

  • 1. Find a common language.

The product development process goes by a variety of names, like New Product Development (NPD), Product Development Process (PDP), Product Innovation (PI), New Product Creation (NPC), New Product Commercialization (NPC), New Product Introduction (NPI), or Product Realization (PR)… and more.

Couple that with the variety of ways to address the process with enablement through Milestones, Phase-Gate, Stage-Gate, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Data Management (PDM), Product and Portfolio Management (PPM) etc and you’ve got a jumbled mess on your hands.

Many companies choose to forgo the above nomenclature to prevent getting wrapped around word definition and generate an internal code-name to identify their process improvement initiatives, keeping the focus on their objectives. Bonus: recognition of priority initiatives among group members and sponsors.

The takeaway here is to decrease confusion by finding a common language, eliminate acronym soup, and no matter which name you choose, be consistent.

 

  • 2. Choose the right process.

Product development processes are used to get new products to market, but the same process can be applied to existing products to improve products already in the market. It might be a good idea to differentiate between “new” product development processes and product improvement processes and create two parallel tracks, one for new products and one for existing products.

  1. New product development
  2. Existing product improvement

To plan either of these processes, the first crucial step is having a product development strategy. Before you kick-start reimagining the product development or improvement process, create a rough roadmap of what the process looks like today. Detail the steps from product ideation, through change iterations, to product launch, improvement, and relaunch. Analyzing the process in a continuous flow before determining if/when to migrate to parallel tracks improves the holistic view, making team definition and separation points or gaps appear organically. Three points for consideration during product development definition are:

    • Identifying the market: Before we release products, it is crucial to have research on the product and check whether the users will accept it or not. For this, you can do surveys, or hunt community forums or social media channels, or take a Henry Ford approach – identifying the need with innovative solutions vs faster horses. How does this data connect to your process? Will you have a playground for ideation and approval process for which products move on to the next phase?
    • Fixing a timeframe: Deciding the timeframe for the release of approved products enables decision making and supports higher-level company goals for revenue and innovation costs. Setting a timeframe helps allocate the project to different team members, detect product viability for cost and time to production early, and decide on iterations required to complete the project. Are there penalties in the form of missed revenue or fines for missed targets? What are the crux points for abandoning an idea that fails to pan out in the required timeframe?
    • Determine key approaches: It is quite important to have key approaches to deal with challenges that come up during product planning and launch. These can include wireframes or prototypes, simulations, product specification requirements, and testing strateg Again, identify how each of these elements will connect back to product master data and the overarching product development process.

 

  • 3. Involve relevant departments in the improvement process.

As the product development process works across different departments, involve people representing each department. These can include Design, R&D, Engineering, Product Management, Manufacturing, Marketing, Quality, Finance, IT etc. Each person may not be critical in each design step but should understand their role and support of the initiative.

Depending on the number of departments, you might end up with quite a few people on the team. Finding a common language early on and identifying ways to collaborate improves communication and coordination. Encourage open discussion and team behavior. No idea is unwelcome, and the process for making, and testing, decisions is clear.

 

  • 4. Ensure good project governance.

Developing new processes and supporting technologies around product development requires governance to enable a more efficient, meaningful process where the right elements to support the efforts are prioritized.

    • First, establish the goal and approach for your product (and your business) and set the features you wish to add. At this stage, the product team must agree on strategies, and align the requirements accordingly.
    • Second, product managers must lead with conviction and enable the team to make hard decisions. If you do not resolve problems in time, it will delay your work and potentially derail group efforts and planning.
    • Resist the urge to write long requirements for enabling processes and supporting technologies. Instead, capture elements that are related to business requirements. Then quantify the value of features against the metrics that matter to the business. Use simple efforts to rank the features of your process enablement to maximize return outcomes.

In this competitive market, manufacturers must constantly adapt new strategies to stay ahead. Now, the question is: Is your company prepared to develop and create the products of tomorrow?

What are your takeaways? Have you used some of these tips in your product development and process improvement initiatives? What other strategies have you used?

Share them with the community and keep the conversation going.

Want to share your story? Drop me a line or send me an email at jmo@minerva-plm.com. I’d love to hear from you.

 

About the author

Jennifer Moore

Jennifer Moore has more than 15 years of experience in Business Transformation across different industries. Her extensive experience includes helping companies navigate complex regulatory requirements through software solutions. She has been developing and deploying large, multi-faceted enterprise software project, driving revenues as well as market adoption.

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