The product development process

In the previous deliveries I looked at a dialectic approach to innovation, the role that serendipity plays, and how serendipity can be engineered. Once “inspiration” strikes in the form of a new idea, you will require structure to move it forward, so I want to take a look at the product development process in this delivery.

I am an advocate of the fact that innovation consists of two stages: a front-end where opportunity- or challenge recognition, creativity and ideation take place; and a back-end, which is the delivery machine that brings ideas to life. I further advocate that although these two stages are unquestionably connected, different factors influence each stage’s success. The tools, resources, skills and processes you apply to identify opportunities and generate ideas, are not the same as the ones you require to execute and implement.
Whereas many people think that the front-end of innovation is usually the most challenging, the truth is that no matter how good your ideas are today, most organisations cannot hope to realize them as new products or services for months or sometimes even years. Making an idea happen requires planning, structure and process. The great ideas organisations generate will become products and services when the product or service development process in the organisation provides resources for the new ideas, and spend time developing, validating, testing the new products or services and finally launching them.
There is no one size fits all process for product- or service development, it differs depending on the amount of change, the available resources and the urgency of the product or service need. The key message here is that far too many organisations want to “innovate” products and services, only to be foiled by their inflexible or unresponsive product development process and capabilities.
My innovation consultant colleague, Jeffrey Phillips, an expert on this matter, rightfully points out a number of challenges in the product development process of the typical organisation: “The vast majority of product development teams are under resourced, overtaxed, and constantly bombarded by changes to existing product developments as well as revisions to priorities for projects already in the hopper. They typically have few tools to help reprioritize projects and almost always have the wrong skills available for the next project in the hopper. Further, simply developing a new product or service doesn’t mean it’s ready for launch. Products and services must be validated through customer feedback, fully tested, integrated with other products or services to tie into a larger offering, and a marketing campaign must be prepared”.
In order to innovate successfully, a company must innovate and update its existing internal processes before trying to innovate products and services. Phillips gives the following advice in this regard: 1. Rethink the internal product- or service development process, to emphasize allocations to new products over existing projects. Accelerate decision making and shorten cycle times to get new products to the market faster. 2. Outsource the design and development of new products, leaving your existing product and service development team to focus on legacy products and services, to reduce conflict and confusion over resource priorities. 3. Create a hybrid that speeds up and reworks internal capabilities while tapping external partners for key innovation tasks.
Don’t make the mistake to think that innovation is an occasional activity and doesn’t merit making changes to a stable, reliable product development process. If you hope to sustain innovation, start by focusing on your internal processes, both by developing a front-end capability and reworking or rethinking the execution phases in the back-end.


Next Time
The front-end of innovation is not only about generating ideas, it is also about having insight on opportunities, so next time I want to touch on two proven methods to spot opportunities, namely trend spotting and scenario planning. I conclude with a quote from W. Edwards Deming: “A bad system will beat a good person every time”.
Phillips, J. 2015. Innovate your processes before innovating your products. Online:


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