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The product development process


To effectively develop new products, there are a number of tools and project methods to use and follow. It varties from case to case but this article describes how it may work generally when developing new products. I’ve tried to summarize it in a basic and easily understandable way. There are also many other factors other than the normal product development tools and guidelines which affect how the outcome of the product will be. For a full and complete product development process it’s useful to follow the principles of product lifecycle management(PLM), involving New product development(NPD) and Knowledge based systems(KBS). This article is a short summarization of those processes.

Pre-study

This is the first stage in which the project is defined. Is it going to be a completely new product or an update of an existing one? In order to get an early idea of how feasible it will be, some research needs to be done. This could involve looking at similar products, potential markets, available manufacturing methods and materials. Surveys and interviews might need to be made with the potential target group/groups in order to find out what their needs and wishes are in general. If there’s no need for the product on the market it will of course not sell. If research has been made previously for other, similar projects it can be useful to store such data and go through it quickly to see if it could be used for the new project. When the research is done a project definition and brief should be made, including demands specifications, WBS, time tables and early cost estimations. How well defined and well planned the project is at this stage will affect how much time and detailing will be needed at the end of the project. It's therefore very important to plan well here.

Ideation

This is the fun part. In the beginning it could be good to start from a blank sheet of paper and just blurt out alot of ideas. These can be completely crazy, the most important thing is the creativity and brainstorming. The ideas can be sorted out and evaluated later, it’s important to not be too limited at this stage. It can of course be a good idea to keep the demands and the target group in the back of the head, as well as if the company is making other products, so the ideas will fit into their product range and brand. There are several ways to generate and show new ideas including written words on post-it notes, analog and digital sketches, 3d-models, brain-maps, mood-boards and graphs among other things.

Evaluation

When a number of ideas have been created they need to be evaluated. A few should be selected which best fit in with the demands specifications, the needs and wishes of the target group and the company’s other products, design profile and overall values. It’s a complicated process which can proceed indefinitely, but at some point a decision needs to be made over which idea to use. The sooner the better, since the cost for the project progress over time. To simplify and get a better idea for the risks involved, and which concept that would be the best fit, there are several tools to use. They include QFD’s, S.W.A.T.-analyses and other evaluation matrises and critical review techniques. It’s good to get some numerical values and defined directions out of those tools, but keep in mind that they should be used as guidelines and will not definately tell if the product will be successful or not. The ideas should be evaluated and refined through several stages in order to really create a strong and competitive product. It’s important to have discussions with the target group, colleagues and subcontractors along the project to ensure it’s on the right track and get second opinions.

Completion

When a concept has undergone the main evaluation process it can proceed to the prototyping stage. Production underlay such as CAD/CAM can now start and a prototype modell can be created. This can be used in order to see the product in reality and get a deeper understanding of how it can perform. It can be tested with the target group or be shown at an exhibition. It can also be a good idea to show it to the subcontractors to see if it’s really going to work with their manufacturing methods and processes. This is the final evaluation before production and now it can be useful to look into patenting and marketing of the product if it’s not done already.


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