We’ve talked about New Product Development (NPD) projects here on the blog before. But there’s always more to say on the topic.
NPD is a tricky business, and it’s all too easy to make a misstep. As we said in our previous NPD post, having a great idea is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to developing a new product. Once you’ve had your flash of inspiration, you’ll need to follow through with a great strategy.
There are a lot of moving parts here: testing your ideas, identifying your target market, finding your price, and defining your product. And since every new product is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all process.
But in the midst of all this complexity, it’s possible to find some common ground in successful NPD projects. Here are five characteristics of great NPD processes.
1. They’re based on solid research
A successful NPD project requires a thorough understanding of a laundry list of items: your target market, the market need, your unique value proposition, your competition, your pricing options – the list goes on. There’s no point launching a product if you don’t know anything about your target market, or if your product doesn’t have anything setting it apart from the competition.
If you’ve got existing market research, use that as a springboard for going even deeper. If your existing market research is less-than-impressive, then you’ll want to invest in that, stat.
2. They test the product (and then test again)
We’re big fans of user testing
and an iterative approach
. That’s because they put user needs at the forefront and respond to changing user demands.
While we usually talk about iteration and user testing in the context of already existing products, they can work wonders for product development as well. Testing your product proposal with customers will give you valuable feedback and insights that you can use to improve the product you’re developing in a way that you know users will love.
3. They’re focused
Successful NPD projects avoid the temptation of doing too much. By now, most of us are familiar with the dreaded "feature creep
" – the tendency to keep adding features to your product past the point of usefulness. Feature creep is a problem because it leads to products that are needlessly complex and hard to use.
But it’s also a problem for NPD processes. Once you’re finished your research and product testing stages, you’ll likely be tempted to widen the scope of your project, bring on even more team members, and add features to your product. There’s nothing wrong with this in theory – but in reality, it can slow your project down and throw unnecessary complications into the mix. Good NPD projects tend to stay focused on specific, clear objectives.
Which brings us to another characteristic of successful NPDs…
4. They have a timeline
Good NPD projects tend to combine this focus on clear objectives with a commitment to a hard timeline. In our experiences with NPDs, we’ve found that the best approach here is to distill everything down into manageable project phases. Each phase should have a deadline attached to it, and a solid roadmap for getting things done. NPDs rely on a lot of creativity and inspiration, but behind all of that, you need a pretty stubborn commitment to achieving your targets on time.
5. They’re adaptable and flexible
This one is a caveat to all that talk about deadlines and project phases and strict time management.
Before setting out on an ambitious NPD project, you should know that things aren’t going to go as planned. Markets change, demand for products like yours might suddenly dry up, the economic winds can change, and new opportunities can even emerge.
This uncertainty doesn’t have to jeopardize your timeline, though. Good NPDs build uncertainty into their process. In our work, we’ve noticed that the best practice here is to try to project at least two iterations down the line with your long-run objectives in mind. There’s always going to be a fair bit of unpredictability when you’re developing a new product, but baking in a hefty dose of flexibility into your processes will help you absorb it.