Developing a new product can be a nerve-racking experience. Even for those who have done it before, the lead up to launch can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a plane’s open door, hoping that your parachute has been properly packed and functions just as it should when you jump.
The toughest part of any new project is dealing with all of the unknowns, but also knowing when to reel in the seemingly limitless possibilities to find the best result.
I can guarantee you’ll find yourself at a crossroads of questions at some point in your project, maybe shocked and disoriented or perhaps even looking for the nearest escape exit.
But the most important thing to remember is that this is an important part of the product development journey. Embrace it! Uncertainty challenges you to find understanding, and understanding is what underpins all great design. Facing the challenges and reaching for a deeper understanding of people’s problems, passions and hopes opens the door to creating real value.
So before you start packing that parachute, here are a few important things to consider before developing your next product.
People can make or break your project. Simon Sinek once pointed out that, “Investors often say that they invest in people first, then the market and lastly, the idea” suggesting that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Always consider carefully who you will be partnering or collaborating with. The same holds true for investors. Surround yourself with people with the right expertise, who offer a network of support but who are also not afraid to challenge and ask the tough questions.
2. Know your market
“Before you build a better mousetrap, it helps to know if there are any mice out there” – Mort Zuckerman.
You’ve got a great idea, but will people want to buy it? It can be very easy to get caught up in emotions when you’re invested in your own idea. But never assume your product will fly off the shelves without doing your research. Commit to knowing your market early on in your project.
Begin by understanding your customers. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What do they value? Do they need what you’re offering and can they afford it? Can you show that they will they be willing to part with their money and buy it? Keep an open mind and be aware of your own biases when conducting your research.
“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse” – Henry Ford.
Finally, be aware of your competition. Decide whether you can viably compete before stepping into the ring.
3. Know your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
When you’re developing a new product, it is only a matter of time before someone asks you, “What’s your MVP?” To avoid any painful setbacks down the track, gather the information and know your answer early.
Created by Frank Robinson and popularised by Steve Blank and Eric Ries, “A Minimum Viable Product is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk”.
In other words, MVP is the minimum amount of features, development and design required to prove functionality, gain investment and display a vision of the product. It might not have all the kinks worked out but the improvements can come in version two.
Knowing your MVP is a crucial part of the product development process because it helps establish your core value proposition – what you can and cannot do without, it reduces costly engineering hours and helps manage risk by allowing you to test your product quickly.
“Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features” – Steve Jobs.
4. Time to market – have a plan
It’s not always about being first, but you still need to have a plan.
‘Time to market’ is the time it takes to develop your idea from concept to commercialisation. Generally speaking, the quicker you can get your product to your market, the less risk you’ll attract.
Having a clear outline of your budget, available resources and an understanding of your strategy can help you decide what a realistic timeline might be. Will you be a market follower, leader, challenger or attempt to build a niche? Perhaps it will be a mix of a few. In any case, be sure to have a timeline with check points along the way that incorporates your MVP.
Stakeholders are the people who have a vested interest in your project. They make up the extended part of your team. They might not be right in the face of the action, but they still play an important role in your project’s overall success.
Understanding who they are and what they value in the context of what you are trying to achieve is essential. Stakeholders will vary across every project, but are likely to stretch across disciplines including design, marketing, intellectual property, regulatory, management, quality and manufacturing.
Remember that different stakeholders will have different priorities. Their needs and values will almost always conflict. Communicate and agree upon expectations early, but also consistently throughout your project.
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw.
Communication can be an incredibly powerful tool. But it can also be complicated and difficult, especially when dealing with multiple stakeholders with competing interests.
Never leave items open for interpretation. Plan to communicate clearly and always communicate back what was discussed and agreed via email. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your discussions have been documented and everyone is working with you towards the same goal.
7. Understand the product development process
It can be tough to know where to start and how to navigate the product development journey.
For most, conceptualising an idea and developing it all the way through to realisation is an entirely new and unfamiliar experience. It can be a long road and you don’t want the original product vision to get lost along the way.
Ask your product development and design firm about the product development process. At ide Group we’ve been there before and we know the right questions to ask. We want you to succeed and we’re in it together with you every step of the way.
Product development can sometimes seem like an enigmatic process, but don’t be afraid to ask questions, get involved and actively participate. And be wary of firms who take a closed door approach.
8. Have fun! Be passionate – all or nothing
Product development is hard. Things happen that you don’t expect, testing tells you things that you don’t want to hear, people might tell you what they can’t do rather than what they can.
But don’t give up, persistence is the key. Make a list of all of the reasons why you started your project and the difference that it will make and keep it in your pocket. Never lose sight of your end goal.
“The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all!” – Richard Branson.
Huw Wallis is a Senior Product Developer at ide Group, an award winning product design and development firm based in Sydney, Australia and Malvern, USA. ide Group is an Australian leader in medical device design and development and is driven by a commitment to creating products that change lives, grow new organisations and build better futures.