Product Development: Reconciling a Linear Process with Iteration in Innovation

Innovation in the form of new product development typically involves several phases aimed at transforming an initial concept into a successful launch. Learning from the work can change the idea and project direction at any given time during development. Thus, iteration is critical. However, visualizing the innovation process as linear steps and phases makes it understandable, but not to be mistaken simply as map directions followed exactly beginning to end. This is where you optimize your approach as you go.

Start with a focus on strategic questions to drive the initial order of steps. Even as you customize and share phases, you are likely to pivot and optimize as you learn and proceed.  As the leader combine steps or change up the step order. This is determined from further understanding of the specific problem and the new questions uncovered directly in the work of that moment. You are reviewing the linear steps but approaching the steps iteratively.

In early the exploratory phase and market learning phase by example we say to combine steps in the agile way method we promote which seems like it is just for entrepreneurial efficiency. However, the concept, design and product testing steps that are done together are primarily to support identifying the actual concept. Without a concept you can’t move to development or launch. These small experiments like product “test, learn and adjust” steps are really just iteration.

Another optimization is to get better clarity of insight sooner. Ideally where possible, design the analysis to use behavioral learning versus learning from stated answers or implied insight. When we have to use stated answers for efficiency in narrowing concept choices, we follow up with a small-scale usage test or pilot for behavioral confirmation. This approach can improve clarity in answers and help you make choices during development that greatly improve the probability of success.  The obvious argument is it is much more costly to change a product design later in production versus a prototype now.

Keep in mind, no innovation process or approach is without risk (calculated risks we would add) due to major uncontrolled factors such as market changes, market timing and other uncertainties and imperfection in information.  Following a process can help ensure steps aren’t skipped and perspective bias by an individual leader for particular data or action doesn’t undermine results. See more on this topic about people, their innovative thinking styles and how to manage them.

Perennial Strategic Questions

When planning and executing an innovation project think about these questions as constants to ask at each phase:

  • Identify the Killer Issue: What is the biggest issue or unknown we need to find for this innovation to be successful?
  • What are the facts or data to support this decision, strategy or position?
  • How could we double our confidence in knowing this new product or innovation will be a success?
  • If we only had half the time, how would we approach getting this answer, the next phase, project steps to launch, etc.?

Innovation and Product Development Approach Guidance

Here’s a general overview of the phases and steps involved to help shape and think about specific project needs.

I. Early Stage Exploratory Phase
Discover:
  • Identify Market Needs: Conduct market research to understand customer needs, pain points, and emerging trends.
  • Generate Ideas: Brainstorm potential product concepts and innovative solutions to address identified market needs.
  • Evaluate Feasibility: Assess the technical, financial, and resource feasibility of each idea to determine viability.
II. Agile Market Learning Phase
Identify Opportunity:
  • Concept Refinement: Select promising ideas and refine them into detailed product concepts, including features, functionalities, and value propositions.
  • Market Validation: Validate product concepts with target customers through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and prototype testing.
  • Business Case Development: Develop a comprehensive business case, including revenue projections, cost estimates, and potential return on investment.
Design:
  • Prototyping: Create prototypes or mockups to visualize and test the product’s design, functionality, and user experience.
  • Iterative Design: Iterate on prototypes based on user feedback and usability testing, refining the product design to optimize performance and usability.
  • Technical Specifications: Define detailed technical specifications and requirements for product development, including materials, components, and manufacturing processes.
III. Agile Product Testing Phase
Develop:
  • Engineering: Develop the product design into a manufacturable form, optimizing for performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Testing and Validation: Conduct rigorous testing and validation to ensure that the product meets quality standards, regulatory requirements, and customer expectations.
  • Iterative Development: Iterate on the product design based on testing feedback, making necessary adjustments and refinements to address any issues or deficiencies.
IV. Scaling Up Phase
Go-to-Market:
  • Production Ramp-Up: Scale up production processes and supply chain operations to meet anticipated demand levels.
  • Marketing and Sales: Develop marketing campaigns and sales strategies to generate awareness, build anticipation, and drive customer adoption.
  • Distribution and Logistics: Coordinate distribution channels and logistics to ensure timely delivery of the product to customers.
  • Launch Execution: Execute the product launch plan, including coordinating promotional activities, managing customer inquiries, and monitoring sales performance.
Scaling (post-launch):
  • Production Ramp-Up: Scale up production processes and supply chain operations to meet anticipated demand levels.
  • Marketing and Sales: Develop marketing campaigns and sales strategies to generate awareness, build anticipation, and drive customer adoption.
  • Distribution and Logistics: Coordinate distribution channels and logistics to ensure timely delivery of the product to customers.
  • Launch Execution: Execute the product launch plan, including coordinating promotional activities, managing customer inquiries, and monitoring sales performance.

These phases and steps provide a structured framework for guiding innovation and new product development initiatives, helping organizations navigate the complexities of bringing a new product to market successfully. Remember to move from linear to iterative and focus on the killer issues to get results faster and quicker.

Gus Valen
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