Developing a new technology or solution which meets customer needs is rewarding in its own right. The innovation process has produced a result – but for it to be truly innovative the new product innovation effort must be successful commercially.

New product innovation is a team effort.

It is far from easy to convert a concept into a profitable product, requiring that people from multiple disciplines work together, sometimes over very long periods of time. New product development follows a complex, collaborative process focusing the innovation efforts of many people. The launch of a new product might include Design, Engineering, Suppliers, Sales, Marketing, Procurement, Manufacturing, Finance, Regulatory and Legal staff.

There are complex inter-dependencies between those functional areas during the project. A review of the companies that are the best in their class for new product development and market introduction, illustrates some common features:

  • Focused Responsibility: A senior manager is entirely responsible for overseeing the total process of innovation, from concept to product/service launch.
  • Process and Structure: Product development is governed by Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) related technologies.
  • Centralised Control: Innovation strategy is controlled and coordinated centrally.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Innovation performance is measured frequently at an enterprise level.

To become true innovators and bring profit-generating products to the market in a repeatable and predictable way, companies need a robust and formal product development process.

Product development must improve.

The product development process must itself be under continuous scrutiny, so that new tools and techniques can be used to refine the gathering of ideas and their appraisal, product design, prototyping and testing, even through to distribution and marketing – and this thinking applies equally to new service concepts (and service extensions), too, in all those aspects.

Best practice analysis by study of sector leaders, and involvement within industry groups are also useful ways of gleaning intelligence to enable improved PLM.

Measurements which are not specific to the new products themselves, but measure the PLM process efficiency should be used. ‘Time to Market’ is one such measure, though with innovative products this has to be assessed carefully if comparisons are to be meaningful.

Lastly, the product development process may need coordination between a range of third-party suppliers, particularly at the design and prototype stages; if the overall product development process is to improve, then that may demand process changes at those suppliers themselves.

Successful product innovation is also about allowing all departments to view product development as part of the value chain, and the link they represent in that chain. Every link has to be improved.

Teamwork requires coordinated efforts.

Collaborative working has been made easier by a range of new software tools from online meeting software to collaborative design systems. Such tools can improve the PLM process efficiency, but also deliver improved monitoring with earlier problem identification such a late design finalisation, test failure rates and so on.

Improving the level of collaboration requires some basic metrics for assessing collaboration, and new toolsets can help assess that. For example, how much time can be saved by not having to physically attend meetings?

In today’s markets, such tools are available economically to all levels of organisation, whatever their budgets.

New products, new processes

In summary, to be successful at new product innovation in the medium to long term, a company has to invest in an innovation strategy embracing formal product lifecycle management. It also has to keep the PLM process itself under continuous review. This continuous process review is an important concept, not to be neglected if a company wants to win with its new product development strategy.

News Reporter