Managing the New Product Development Process

Interesting quote this week by Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine…”in the new economy free becomes inevitable”. It hammers home the point that if your company isn’t constantly innovating and developing new products/services for your customers then you’re living on borrowed time because someone is going to figure out how to do it cheaper, faster, smarter.

My experience has been that there are no shortage of ideas in a company just a lack of process on how to manage them. It doesn’t have to be a complex exercise but defining a process will put you steps ahead of the competition. Successfully managing the product innovation process has some real benefits but needs to start with a few basic criteria:

  1. Have a clear objective in mind…i.e problem to solve, market to target, sales target
  2. Promote risk taking in your organization…without risk there can be no reward
  3. Define a process for evaluating ideas (more on this later)
  4. Allow time for free thinking…nothing stifles creativity faster than a lack of think time
  5. Encourage communication across the organization

In terms of the process for managing ideas it’s a simple three steps:

  1. Start with a simple 1 page summary of any new idea that is generated. The summary should capture basic information like general description/outline of the business idea, target market, executional issues, high level financials (a must) and timing around when the project could likely be launched.
  2. Review these 1 page summaries with the management team on a monthly or quarterly basis and prioritize each one for further development and funding
  3. Projects that are prioritized for further development should be assigned to one person who is accountable for moving the project forward but also has the support of an executive sponsor.

Once you get this far the process becomes more manageable and projects are easier to track. Each 1 page summary that is identified for further development should then be fast tracked through what I call the ‘innovation stations’.

  • Concept Document – used for feedback/input from the various functional groups
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  • Business Plan – more detailed project description that includes financials & implementation plan
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  • Business Case – the ‘go/no go’ document

Implementing these steps can be as rigorous or fluid as they need to be depending on the culture of your organization. Regardless of the approach though, managing the innovation process is a critical process for business survival.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Anonymous

    I think you are right on to mention that each project need to be assigned to a person responsible to move it forward AND to an executive sponsor. Innovation project definition needs to be a priority for everyone in the business unit and not just something an engineer(or project leader) is expected to do as a hobby…

  • Anonymous

    What if the group is short on valuable ideas? What is the best way to get them (who: sales ? engineering? product managers?) to come up with a list of strong ideas when you are managing mature products in a conservative market?

  • Brad

    Hi Anonymous,

    There are a few ways to come up with ideas for new product concepts. (1) you can have a 3rd party come in and facilitate a brainstorming session with a group of people representing different departments which is always effective,(2) you can talk to your customers directly and get feedback from them on some of the business problems they’re facing. You can do this through face to face meetings or surveys or(3) do some market/industry research to see what other companies or markets are doing. Great ideas don’t have to be proprietary to the company…..the Japanese were famous for the “not invented here” approach to product development.

    Brad