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5 best practices for successful product development and innovation

Over my 30 years of leading the creation of innovative new products, processes and services, I’ve learned what makes for successful new product development and innovation. It goes far beyond designing something you think is cool. When done well, product innovation solves a problem or a customer pain point.

In my experience, I’ve found businesses that excel in product innovation follow these five best practices.

1. Their process is customer-focused.

By focusing on the customer, best-in-class innovators develop and launch new products that provide new and unique benefits to their customers, offer greater value for the customers’ money, and better meet customers’ needs than competing products.

Best-in-class innovators do this by ensuring they have a deep, profound knowledge of their customers’ needs, including unmet and unarticulated needs. Innovators gain this understanding by working closely with their customers to identify their needs and problems through direct observation and in-depth interviews. They also rely on market research to define the product requirements.

Ultimately, the customer plays an integral part in the development process – from scoping to product definition to product validation to product service. Always take into account that your customers are both internal to your business (e.g., manufacturing, suppliers, service, marketing, finance, quality) and external (e.g., customers, end users, etc.).

2. Their process is front-end loaded.

Best-in-class innovators front-load their product development by reducing their concept technical risk, concept marketing risk, and creating a draft of a detailed financial plan to reduce any headaches or rework these areas might cause along the way to a final product.

3. They continuously check and adjust to changes in customer needs or in the market.

So, you’ve identified a problem and you’re creating a solution. That should be enough, right? Not so. It’s important to ensure the product in development actually solves the identified problem in the manner the consumer prefers.

This can be done by either building a virtual prototype or a physical prototype to conduct a Customer Acceptance Test (CAT) to gain insights and feedback that will help you create an even better product overall.

4. Their product innovation teams are not research and development. Instead, they are a cross-functional team-based endeavor.

Best-in-class innovators assign specific members from across the business to their product innovation teams. Teamwork is a catalyst for innovation, in addition to a deep and profound understanding of the customer that is achieved through intense research and sharing of observations.

5. They use a stage-gate process with formal reviews and signature approvals.

A stage-gate process is essentially a road map for moving a new-product project from idea to launch. Cross-functional teams are required to successfully complete outlined activities in each stage prior to obtaining management approval to proceed to the next stage of product development.

Stages can be ongoing simultaneously depending on risk management/assessments. Low-risk areas can proceed into the next phase prior to review and approval, whereas high-risk areas typically proceed sequentially.

In addition to a stage-gate process, best-in-class innovators set QCT targets for each innovation. QCT stands for quality or customer need targets, cost targets for piece part and project investment costs, and timing or schedule targets. Both internal and external customers must also be represented in the quality targets. The QCT ensures project audits are performed, lessons learned are identified, and a continuous improvement effort is implemented.

These best practices for successful new product development and innovation will help you streamline your process and ensure you’re creating a product that truly solves your customers’ pain points. Try them to see how they can help you improve your new product development, and let me know if you’ve encountered any additional best practices that have positively impacted your process.

If you need more assistance than these best practices offer, we can help. Our industry experts and widely experienced business consultants can help you optimize your process and identify areas that can benefit from improvements and lean manufacturing practices.

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David enjoys helping customers be successful through innovation and continuous improvement. With over 37 years of manufacturing experience, David has worn many engineering hats along the way. From creating innovative products to eliminating significant waste, he is an expert in LEAN product development. David also has experience in leading cultural changes to increase innovation, employee passion, customer quality, and teamwork.

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