It’s a hard truth but without a product innovation process most manufacturing companies are destined to fail. In this post we discuss some tools and techniques to develop an innovative culture and the process of developing and screening new product ideas.
As technology moves forward, as new and innovative solutions enter the market, as economic conditions change businesses that fail to innovate to remain relevant in a changing market lose market share. Some markets may change very slowly but ultimately the end result remains the same
Innovation can take many forms. Myers and Marquis (1969) defined it as ‘not a single action but a total process of interrelated sub processes. It is not just the conception of a new idea, nor the invention of a new device, nor the development of a new market. The process is all these things acting in an integrated fashion.’ In this post we deal specifically with product innovation
Any innovation process needs support from the top of the organisation, it needs resources and it must fit within the overall strategic framework of the business. A mistake made by many organisations is a failure to allow the process time to run its course without interference or mismanagement.
Generating New Product Ideas
Every product innovation process needs to start with a basic framework linked to the business strategy. A combination of Ansoff matrix, the value chain and competitive analysis tools can deliver an understanding of where the business is now and identify opportunities for growth that may be developed further utilising the techniques outlined below:
- Customer Input
- Suggestion Box
Given a basic framework the product innovation process often starts with a brainstorming type activity. It is important that this is inclusive and not judgemental in any way if it is to be of value. Ideas that come out of this process may be rough and poorly defined but are the starting point for further work.
Customer ideas are also useful although our own experience shows customers are surprisingly poor at defining the products / services that may satisfy their future needs. Often the discussion turns to products offered by the competition today rather than future needs. Although the sales department may be the closest to the customer and have the best relationship they are not always the best at extracting the required information. Sales tend to be focussed on the next 6 – 12 months and achieving the sales forecast (rightly so) rather than what may help the business grow in future.
As brainstorming tends to be an invitational process and include mainly senior staff suggestion boxes (with incentives) can be useful as many good ideas can come from manufacturing operatives and junior staff who may be unwilling to raise their ideas in an open forum.
Idea Screening And Research
With a number of roughly defined product ideas in place it is important to develop a short but robust top level screening process to weed out those ideas that do not fit with business strategy. The process should not screen out ideas simply because they appear too difficult or do not fit with current manufacturing capability only those that clearly do not fit with the business long term objectives
Design of the top level (and subsequent) screening processes is essential as many good and valid ideas can be discounted simply because of a screening process that has not been thought through in appropriate detail and designed appropriately.
With several ideas in place a top level research process may then be undertaken to assess the market potential for the product and competition as an input to the second level screening process. A rough assessment should be made at this point of the investment required to take the product forward.
The process then repeats, screening out products that do not match the required criteria followed by more detailed market research before a final fine screening process which should result in only the best ideas moving forward to initial manufacturing trials, mock ups, prototypes and market sampling.
The importance of a product innovation may be clear but defining a building a process that delivers sound new product ideas that are worth further investment can be difficult. The key issues are adequate resourcing of the process, robust screening procedures and adequate market research with inclusion of all sources that may make a valuable input.