words purpose and justifies
March 27th, 2018

Minimize Risk—Let Purpose Justify New Product Innovations

Purpose is an evocative word. It forces us to consider meaning, motive, and values. It has nothing to do with what, where, when, or how, and everything to do with why. As such, it should be a primary filter to justify decisions in new product innovation programs. At the outset and throughout each phase of the process, in its many forms.

The pursuit of innovation involves risk. Often more than is tolerable. It can be costly and weigh down new product development, even to the point of failure. To mitigate this risk, many product manufacturers employ some form of stage-gate process, involving “go” and “no-go” reviews and assessments. Yet many products hurdle these gates, race on to production and market introduction, and still fail to fully deliver on expectations. In our experience, an explanation for this is neglecting the examination of purpose, particularly in later stage reviews where the programs’ purpose, now accepted, is replaced by “what now”, “how to”, and “when will”, as progression toward the finish line becomes more anticipated.

At the outset of a new development cycle, ask your NPD team, “What is our purpose for this development cycle?” This question makes the team explore meaning, and focuses thinking and activity. It demands they seek a broader perspective, to encompass external drivers such as market dynamics, customer demands, and business goals. Seeking answers may require more rigorous examination of competitive threats, behavioral trends, or additional strategic insights from executive management. But this foundational information, when considered and understood, will imbue the team with a higher sense of purpose in their work. An appreciation of their contribution to the bigger picture.

As user research informs specific project criteria, and design briefs stimulate creative ideation and concept development, purpose should be front and center in every debate. From the end user needs perspective, what is the purpose of this new product innovation? Why are we working on this particular innovation? What situation / problem does it solve and why? Is it important or desirable? Is it necessary and will it bring value? If it passes this inspection, then evaluate every concept envisioned with these purpose-based filters. This justifies progression to the next stage.

As you develop selected concepts and create models and prototypes, measure every decision with purpose. What is the purpose of this approach? What will approach “A” achieve that makes it a better solution than “B”? Consider your overarching purpose, the purpose for which the innovation is intended, and the overall fitness for purpose from the end user point of view. Use purpose as your yardstick to measure progress and direction toward that goal.

And as you reach the point of no return, but before you spend big bucks on tooling, production lines, packaging, inventory, and launch, do a final check on the larger purpose. Will this new innovation help achieve your purpose, driven by market dynamics, customer demands, and business goals? The hope is that by considering purpose throughout the process, it will. But if uncertainty lurks, slow down. Weigh the consequences. And expect the same level of scrutiny from every member of your team.

On a final note:

Much is written today about PURPOSE—the higher cause. We use it in our brand strategy work for our clients. It goes beyond company Vision—where you want your company to be in “X” amount of time, and Mission—how you’re going to get there.

PURPOSE demands soul-searching to define and then ascribe to WHY your company or brand exists. It requires everyone, from the boardroom to the factory floor to dig in personally and ask, “Why are we here? Why are we doing this?”

PURPOSE is a company’s raison d’être. And the final measurement of any effort your company undertakes.

Are we fulfilling our PURPOSE?


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