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New creative ideas only as useful as the system that implements them

New creative ideas only as useful as the system that implements them

The product development process by Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions

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.

Product development process

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 those 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 only manage to implement new ideas for services and products after several months, and in some cases after several years.

Making an idea happen requires planning, structure and process. Any great idea conceived by an organisation will become new products or services only when the product or service development process in the organisation provides resources for the new ideas, and spend time developing, validating and testing the new product or service and finally launching it.

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 need for a new product or service. 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.” Phillips argues.

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:



About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and business consultant who specializes in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law and has an MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and he has also completed studies in design thinking and intellectual property management. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education, research, consulting, and financial services, Dr. Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past ten years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation, and invention.