Developing New Product Concepts


By Christopher Miller & Jen Arnold

New product development is my mission. I am a fan of new food, new cars, new services, and new toys. I love to see, taste, touch, smell and feel things that are new to their world. I get excited about future market trends and the direction of technology. I am thrilled by groups of people who are working to push their company ahead by using their own abilities to meet consumer needs in new ways. I am passionate about sharing the thrill and the fun in the work with all people in the company. I believe that commitment to excellence and employee involvement is at the heart of an aggressive and alive organization, and that this liveliness manifests itself in the creativity of product development.

Getting just the right idea that will excite your customer and galvanize your team to action is no easy task. Contrary to common wisdom most ideas are not accidental. World class thinkers actively seek ideas and actively practice idea generation as both an art and as a science. Knowing how to get great ideas that is meaningful to your business and to your customer gives you tremendous power as you seek to challenge your market and your competition.

The company that dares to step out on a limb and think about new possibilities is the company that will attract customers:

“If at first an idea is not absurd there is no hope for it.”

–Albert Einstein

Almost every process works in new product development … at least once. And almost every process fails … frequently. It is difficult for companies to find an approach that works for them based on a track record of success because there is often a great gulf of time and organizational distance between the inception of a product idea and its eventual evaluation.

The result is that many companies create organizational superstitions around their approach. And while I have yet to meet the product manager who refuses to change his socks because they were the ones he was wearing when lightning struck, it is only a matter of time. In my years of consulting with individuals and companies in the new product development process, I have been frustrated that I cannot predict when or where the big idea will hit.

I have seen powerful ideas come out of groups and individuals who are, by all reasonable standards, totally dysfunctional and without merit. And I have been with wonderful people when they run dry. I have confidence that I know how to increase the probability that a group or an individual will get a new idea when they want one. But how can we tell if these ideas are any better than the ones they would have developed on their own? It is a problem. And we don’t run business with control groups.

Then there is the story of the vice-president who left halfway through a three day session— satisfied. He had what he came for! As Jonathan Swift said, “Blessed be he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Another client recently started the European leg of a three continent invention tour by saying, “We have an impressive record of success in our new product introductions which means we have not tried hard enough. (Where are our failures that prove we are stretching?)” This is a wise corporate leader. Too often we fail to reach the stars because we were aiming for the ground. We are good managers and we tend to hit what we shoot for.

Ask yourself, “Where am I aiming?”

I have become a believer in getting teams to do some independent work before calling in the big guns. This applies equally to product idea development, strategic planning, positioning and naming, as well as to many other business problems that seem to lend themselves to a certain amount of inventiveness.

In the end, the better idea wins. Meaningful product advantage exceeds great marketing; though great marketing ideas help too. Meaningful product differentiation outperforms quality. Customers will work with you to achieve improved quality if your product or service meets their special need in a unique way. Today they even see “new” features as one of the core components of quality. The company that provides their customers with a steady stream of “better ideas” is a company that attracts customers, partners and employees. And besides, it is just plain more fun to work to create a steady stream of innovation than on a steady maintenance.

This year, we are publishing our Developing New Product Concepts workbook online. We want everyone to have access to our recommended process. We will be rolling out chapters each month.

It will provide you with a step-by-step guide for the individual or small group to get ideas when they need them. It moves you methodically through the realization that innovation is important to you and to your customer by using task definition, criteria setting, idea creation, idea selection and finally the decision support required to select a few of these ideas to move to market.

Use this workbook as a step in your invention process. And, let us know what is working (and not working). We would love to hear from you!

Chapter 1 to get you started

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Chapter 2

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Chapter 3

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Chapter 4

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Chapter 5

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Chapter 6

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Chapter 7

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Chapter 8 Process Review

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