Five Secrets for Successful Product Development

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Product development can be a bumpy ride, even for the most experienced teams. However, there are tactics that product development experts use to increase the probability of success. Here are a few tips to help ensure your team has the smoothest journey possible.  

1. Wait Until the Technology is Ready

A common mistake is to move out of technology development and into product development too soon. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a great idea and some preliminary feasibility results. However, that doesn’t mean that the technology is ready to move into formal product development.

For example, if the technology is going to be used in a small wearable device, resist the temptation to go directly from proof-of-concept to a working prototype that has the exact details of the final product. Combining feasibility and miniaturization can be a long, expensive path. Don’t skip the steps that can ultimately help you reduce risk and increase confidence in the product. 

It is far better to determine the product doesn’t work as expected before spending additional time and money.

Get creative about how to produce a user experience early in product development – perhaps with two different prototypes – one that works like and one that looks/feels like the product. This way, you won’t have to get “most of the way done” with product development before discovering the product doesn’t work as you had hoped. 

Refining the technology early on to achieve product requirements is far less costly than when you are deeper in the product development process.

2. Bring the Right Product to Market

It is critical to gain a deep understanding of the user and their needs to ensure you are developing a product that will be adopted and loved by users.

The key is to check in with your users early and often. Before beginning formal product development, take the time to define user needs and problems. You don’t need to spend a lot of time and money on prototypes and formal studies yet. However, it can be helpful to have rough sketches of some product ideas to show users. 

When talking to key thought leaders, trusted experts, and customers - be sure to listen. This insight can help you determine if your product will help them solve their problem before you spend a lot of time and money on product development.

Don’t just do this once at the beginning and then again at the end of product development, either. At each new step along the way, go back to your users and make sure you are still on the best path. This will help ensure that the market adopts your product and will provide you with an advantage against your competitors.

It is better to have the right product than it is to be the first one to market with the wrong solution.

3. Apply Systems Thinking 

Different members of your product team are constantly making decisions throughout the development process. The full, extended team only makes some decisions together. Most decisions are made day-to-day by the individuals working on your product. However, in product development, it is more typically the case that these small, daily decisions can have a great impact on the whole team.

Product development is often treated as very task-based effort, creating silos of disciplines working independently from each other. Instead, strive to foster a systems approach to product development by encouraging consistent communication across disciplines and applying systems thinking. A systems approach will give the team information necessary to make the best daily decisions.

Some of these decisions will end up being critical to the project, and a system-level perspective can save the project from unexpected costs and delays.

4. Follow a Risk-Based Management Approach

Product development schedules are typically very aggressive, often requiring teams to move more quickly than they are comfortable doing.

Take the time to assess the technical and project risks to address the team’s concerns and raise their comfort level. Invite the whole team to participate and brainstorm risks that affect technical aspects of the product as well as those that may affect safety, cost, schedule, and quality goals.

Next, identify appropriate mitigations. Don’t forget to review the risks and mitigations throughout the project, identify new risks that may have emerged, and assess the adequacy of mitigations. Establish an appropriate cadence to review risk for each project.

For most development efforts, a monthly meeting to brainstorm risk and identify mitigations will suffice but consider reviewing project risk more frequently during difficult or stressful times.

5. Practice Strategic Project Management

Organizations that practice strategic project management have discovered the importance of having dedicated project managers.

Assigning a team member a dual role as a project manager is a common mistake in product development. When things get tough on a project, the team needs all hands on deck. Each team member is required to focus their attention on the critical path.

However, a project manager that also has another role on the team will need to peak their performance in both areas simultaneously. Yet this is almost impossible to accomplish and typically results in neglected project management duties. This is the time when the team needs a PM the most – to guide them through critical milestones, ensure everyone is working toward the common goal, facilitate communication with stakeholders, troubleshoot, and prioritize workflow for team members.

Don’t let your teams be vulnerable – practice strategic project management with dedicated project managers.

Given the number of risks involved in new product development, and the financial returns for managing those risks successfully, now is a good time to re-evaluate your process of product planning and execution.