Products That Deliver, Part 2

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The following is part two of last week’s article on product development.
Tired of reading already? Click here- LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE.
This week we will be looking at some of the areas of product development that can help us to ensure that the products or services we are creating are timely, tailored to our marketplace and that everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction.

Collective Commitment
Everybody commits whole-heartedly and knowingly to a worthwhile vision. See my article on visions, missions, and goals. Make real commitments of specifications and schedules. Involve customers and suppliers. Justify project for ROI (Return On Investment) based on performance, time and cost. Finally, we must fully understand and be clear about the objectives. Management studies repeatedly cite lack of common understanding of project objectives as the number one most common reason why a project fails. You may have heard this in the office hallways: “How can we meet the schedule when we keep working on a moving target?” This is typical chaos with predictable results: nebulous corporate objectives evoking minimal commitment on the part of team members to accomplish the goals.

Seek to Inspire!
It is this kind of ‘bigger than life’ vision that a project leader must impart to the team. Emphasize the extensive importance of the project to your people; what is it giving the customer; where will it take the company; how will it advance their career? Consider this dramatic example…. A team of engineers was designing a very important piece of medical equipment. How did they know it was of such great importance? The project leader calculated the number of intensive care patients who were dying throughout the world for each day that this new piece of equipment was not yet ready for use. How’s that for a motivating sense of purpose? As team members are shown the range of valuables, enthusiasm and a deeper sense of meaning is cultivated, which is intrinsic to commitment. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, used to walk throughout the office and declare about the Macintosh Computer, “It’s going to be insanely great!”

Ideas from Clients
Defining requirements is much more complex than simply asking customers ‘what’ they want. The process must be able to handle customers who are not sure what they want or change their minds after they get what they asked for. We must develop tools for understanding the customer such as surveys, focus studies, and verification techniques. In addition, we must also use continuous customer feedback as a basis for creating better requirements.

As businesses develop fresh ideas, launch innovative products, and expand, accurate and timely collection of data is essential. As fundamental as market research is to effective business management, too often the soaring price points and extended time lags associated with this work lead many to dismiss it as superfluous rather than necessary. There are numerous organizations devoted to service/product R and D. Some of my favorites are Find SVP, Brain Trust, and Lexis Nexis.

Competitive Intelligence
Competitive intelligence is a necessity for businesses of all sizes. You need to know who your competitors are and what they are doing in order to compete. By identifying the strengths, weaknesses, pricing, and incentive strategies used by your competitors, you can identify opportunities and make informed decisions about the future of your business. Knowing your competitors will allow you to develop strategies to market your strengths and maintain an edge. Prior to beginning any product/service development project, it is critical that we fully understand the competition.

Ideas from Inside Your Organization
The best ideas for new products or services can come from your customers or employees. Dean Schroeder, recent guest on the Small Business Hour, and author of the book, Ideas Are Free, states and affirms that “the key to a successful company is encouraging a corporate culture that swiftly recognizes and implements ideas and improvements. Managers who recognize this can increase profits and avoid budget cuts and layoffs.”

Stepping Outside Commonly Acceptable Practice
Consider the man who became the first person to pilot a privately built craft into space called this past Monday. He took his rocket plane, SpaceShipOne to an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) — the internationally recognized boundary of space. He ascended into space at Mach 3, three times the speed of sound and accomplished what most have felt impossible. Do you think this will begin to shatter commonly held product development beliefs in the space industry? You bet! How can you step outside the Commonly Acceptable Practices in your business?

Not the drug; but rather a common precept to product/service development.

Sony has given us thousands of new versions of the Walkman since the product was launched in 1979. Every thing from tape to CD to MP3. If this week is average, we will harvest 250 or so new products aimed for American grocery and drugstore shelves. Speed is critical to success. Old-fashioned hierarchies are not only unmercifully sluggish, but their committee-born products are also usually dull as doornails when they finally arrive. But there’s more to life than speed.
Tom Peters admiringly talks about his friend at CBS who drove top management crazy. He would get an idea for a documentary, he says, and then take it to his bosses — who would usually approve. He would return to his office, sit quietly, and mull. And mull. Days would pass. Weeks would pass. Often as not, months would pass. “When in the hell is he going to go out on the road and shoot?” the hierarchs wanted to know. One day his office would be empty, and a few weeks later, he would be back with canisters of film in hand. Did he start editing? Fat chance. Back to office. Feet up. Mull. Massive accumulations of pipe ash. Eventually, he would head for the editing room, and a near perfect show would emerge. The sequence was repeated time and again, and the results were invariably so good that CBS’ muckety-mucks had little choice but to put up with his aberrant behavior.
Often improvement comes in fits and starts. Each week may bring 250 new grocery products, but the odds are that only a couple will last even two years. How many will really be significant? Fewer still. Does that mean all Proctor & Gamble product developers should spend five years peddling soap door to door to get a sense for the product? No. Ought P&G aim to extend its already lengthy product-development cycle in pursuit of breakthrough products? Hardly. Yet Tom Peters would say P&G — and CBS and Sony — ought to have a few folks on the payroll who march to a different drummer.

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