Product Development 101

Product Development 101


“What is Product Development?”

I’m pretty convinced that few folks – even those with product development responsibilities, working in product development organisations – could easily answer this question.

The Wikipedia entry for “New Product Development” doesn’t seem to have a useful answer. Actually, I prefer the brevity of the entry for “Whole Product”.

Tom and Mary Poppendieck refer to the “Concept to Cash pipeline” e.g. the evolving of a vague idea into a revenue-earning product. Some more technically-minded folks like to describe product development as the creation of operational value streams.

But I’m not looking for a partial, complicated or technical answer. I’m looking for an answer that my grandma could relate to. Something like:

“The life blood of businesses everywhere is revenue they earn on the products and services they sell. As times change, existing products and services can begin to lose their appeal, and so both sales revenues and profit margins can begin to fall. To remain successful and profitable, businesses find themselves having to introduce new products and services, as well as upgrading or retiring their existing products and services. From an inkling of a new product, service, or upgrade, all the way through to having something ready for folks to buy – everything that a business does in this regard we call ‘Product Development’”.

I’ve been spending time with various product development organisations recently. Or, rather, with some folks who work for organisations in which the introduction, upgrading and retirement of products and services is central to their business model. (As opposed to organisations with one or more long-lived, more or less unchanging, cash cows).

Time and again, it seems to me that rather than product development being done all wrong, it’s more like it’s not being done at all. Or at least, not in any kind of intentional, deliberate, organised way.

I see lots of software development going on (the products in question being software-intensive in nature). But precious little, if any, product development.

The Product Development Organisation

For me, an essential aspect of Product Development is the organisational perspective. Most established organisations will be introducing, upgrading and retiring products – and services – on a more or less regular basis. So

“Product development is about developing products, not just a product.”

I see few organisations indeed that are set up to do this in anything but a purely ad-hoc way.

Does It Matter?

If we accept POSIWID (the purpose of a system is what is does) then it doesn’t matter much at all. Most organisations, most executives, most managers, and most staff seem happy with – or at least, resigned to – the current state of dysfunction in their product development efforts. I’m pretty sure they don’t know – and don’t, presently, much care – what it’s costing them, personally and collectively.

And until we begin to look at product development as a pipeline, a.k.a. value stream, through which ideas flow – from concepts to revenue streams – I guess things will just have to continue in that vein.

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Aikido – The Exemplar Doctrine

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