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May 29th, 2018

Three Easy Ways to Sabotage Your Product Development Process

Some of the names and details in this story have been changed to protect the innocent.

Most articles we share on the pages of BOLTGROUP Insights are success stories, packed with engineering breakthroughs and retail triumphs. So, fair warning: this is not one of those articles. And why should it be? Not every product development project is a success. If we’re being honest, most new product launches fail. I was recently talking with David Bulfin, a design colleague at BOLTGROUP. We were chewing over the good, the bad, and the ugly from past projects.  And we wondered if there was something to be gained from dragging the bottom, instead of skimming the top.

Nope, this isn’t going to be a puff piece with a happy ending. Instead, we’re going to sift through the rubble of failed product launches and busted brands to learn about how things can go wrong, and why. For your reading and cringing pleasure, I present to you three easy ways to sabotage your product development process.

1. Close down the lines of communication.

As a product innovation firm, we partner with manufacturers and brands to design and develop innovative new products. Whether we are providing a turnkey product development solution all the way from user insight to market launch, or augmenting internal capabilities with strategic and creative resources, good communication with our clients is essential. If communication falters, a program can quickly run off the rails.

Design for manufacturing is the most critical time in the product development process. It’s also when communication breakdowns are most common. When the manufacturers say, “We’ll take it from here,” you can count on problems ahead. Innovative products by definition include something new and different from existing factory processes. Problems will happen. Changes will have to be made. Without close cooperation between your design and manufacturing partners, trying to troubleshoot problems without compromising design intent and user experience will be nearly impossible.

To achieve optimum communication in an innovation program, information must flow freely in both directions. True collaboration doesn’t mean to divide and conquer, it means integrated cooperation.

2. Treat your design resources like suppliers.

How do you view your relationship with the creative resources you employ? As a partnership? Do design and engineering partners have a seat at the table for strategic discussions, with access to internal strategic thinking, business intelligence, and other resources?

Or is the relationship transactional?  You pay for a service, and the “vendor” provides it as requested?

In today’s competitive marketplace, you need more than a great innovation to achieve new product success. The creation must be a great fit for your product line, your brand, and your business. Your new product design won’t transcend the competition and disrupt the market if you don’t give your creative teams access to, and influence on, your larger business objectives.

We occasionally work with clients whose instinct is to limit the information they provide to creative teams for fear they’ll stifle the creative process with constraints. In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Professional innovation experts know that information, data, and experience are powerful fuel for the creative process. You can’t be part of the solution if you don’t fully understand the problem.

A designer’s job is to listen, understand, penetrate, and sometimes disrupt their client’s process and culture. This requires trust. When trust is not established, the relationship between the designer and client is merely “Us and Them,” rather than a far more effective “We.”

3. Leave users out of the process.

This could be the number one sin in the innovation consulting world. You think you know all there is to know about your users, so you don’t engage them until it’s time to sell the product. By then it’s too late. Way too late.

Some manufacturers figure that they use their own product, so what’s more to know? “It’s a grill. We all grill! We know grilling.” Of course, this is dangerous hubris for a brand with hundreds of thousands of customers. When users found their new infrared searing feature hard to use, the manufacturer threw up their hands. “But it’s so simple!” Yeah, maybe to a grill manufacturer.

If you’ve been involved with product innovation in the 21st century, you already know how important it is to conduct user research. To identify issues, pain points, gaps, opportunities. To build user empathy in your design team. To learn what they want, what they need, and what they’ll pay for.

But it shouldn’t end there. At BOLTGROUP we use creative techniques to include the user in the ideation process, and then later, to validate concepts and inform refinement. Each time we engage the user, our team members gain more valuable insights, not just into what users want and need, but also what they can do without. A user might say something is nice during initial research, but demonstrate apathy towards the feature in product testing or shop-along observations. This kind of insight can actually reduce costs for our clients while shifting focus to the most important user benefits.

So, if at first you don’t succeed with your big idea, take heart. At least now you can sidestep three common pitfalls that might sabotage your product development process by including open communication, close partnering, and end user input.

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