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Innovative Product Development – where do I look for the opportunity?

By Alan Richardson - Last updated: Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New innovative product development has many engineering challenges, but most projects that fail don’t fail for engineering reasons, they’ll fail for market or organizational reasons. So how do you reduce these risks? For example its the wrong product for the market or for internal stakeholders. Thus its key to establish the attractiveness of a proposed product and the fit to your capabilities and the needs of the strategic players within the organisation. The innovation management process must address these needs well for an innovative product development to have a chance of navigating the uncertain process to get to market. 

There are some things you should embed in your product definition to help you look for the space to innovate:

  1. Unmet customer need at a price point that makes sense – the acid test.
  2. Look at how your users use your products and your competitors products – this can be a rich source of unmet need. For instance, we developed an innovative consumer product for Laurastar based on the insight of how users failed to use the manually controlled steam ironing system.
  3. Join the future to the past. In a sense, much of what you get conceptually from an IPAD you can see in combining a smart phone and a laptop / netbook. But the implementation and the way that it builds on existing capabilities like the iTunes store and the multi-touch technology is brilliant.
  4. Add value in the mega-trends driving society. A fairly obvious general trend is “wireless everything” so looking at functions that users value in a fixed environment and working out the value point to providing the function untethered or with a radically lower supporting infrastructure cost. A recent example that prompted a wireless product development at Cambridge Consultants was the opportunity to slash costs for wireless audio provision for hearing impaired and simultaneous translation using a customised DECT solution.

The list above help to address the question of what innovations might have market appeal. The threshold question is do we have access to the capabilities that will result in a value added solution i.e. does this fit with our technology, brand, manufacturing etc. But a crucial question is if you embark on a development with a good commercial case, will you execute and complete. My friend, Vince McFarlane, from Miller-Heiman would be screaming “what do the strategic players want to fix, solve, avoid, accomplish or pursue?”. This is a crucial component of innovation management, gaining the buy in of key, usually cross-functional strategic players. Because if you don’t – its easy to guess which project will be vulnerable in any competition for resources. So its wise within the innovation process to surface the relevant aspirations of these players and have them use this to produce the set of criteria that will be used to choose between options. Indeed if you can’t get the strategic players to engage in this process its worth asking whether the project is worth pursuing at all.


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AuthorAlan Richardson


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