The introduction of new products has long been a driver of business growth. New product introductions allow businesses to tap into emerging markets, meet changing customer needs and gain a competitive advantage. However, the journey from new product idea to launch is fraught with risk.

One way to mitigate this risk is the new product screening process. In this article, we present a short case study that covers the design and implementation of a new product screening process. We then move on to discuss potential improvements based on experience.

New Product Screening – The Theory

The purpose of a new product screening process is to ensure only those products with the best chance of success secure the resources to take them through to production.

There are many sources of ideas. Customer new product ideas may come in through the sales team. They can be from internal manufacturing or engineering personnel. Or they may come from the sales or marketing team, based on their experience with many customers.

The standard model assumes ideas feed into the top of the screening funnel. They then pass through several gates before emerging as product ideas ready for further research and analysis. Product ideas that fail to pass a gate are either discarded or fed back for another review at a future date.

Two problems with the above are immediately obvious. First, how do you define what is (and what is not) a new product? Second, How do you structure each gate?

Case Study – Situation Overview

A technology business started as a small custom products supplier. They manufactured components for customers unable to use the standard components available from large manufacturers. Over several years the business developed a standard product line with custom products reduced to a small proportion of turnover.

Sales had grown strongly, but had started to plateau. A review showed too many products were ‘me too’. Many product introductions only succeeded in keeping a key customer on board. Others were so application-specific that they had little mass appeal across the customer base.

A growing and unwieldy product range was putting a strain on production and increasing material inventory alarmingly. The company was growth-focused initially, but profitability had become the top concern.

The Screening Process

The board decided that manufacturing flexibility was impacting profitability. They also demanded a significant inventory reduction.

With healthy customer relations in place and no lack of new product ideas, the sales and marketing director decided a new product screening process was the first step to achieving higher management goals.

His first task was to seek the support of senior managers in design, engineering, production and quality. It was agreed:

  • Marketing would manage the screening process.
  • Marketing would perform the first pass-screen.
  • The first screen would exclude products that did not fit within the current capability.
  • A senior management team and the managing director would screen products outside the current capability and either delete or feed into a second screen.
  • Engineering, design quality and sales would have an input on the second screen.
  • Sales would secure a (specified) customer commitment to any surviving products.
  • Project teams would take products surviving the screen forward.

Timescales were:

  • 1st Marketing screen – 2 weekly
  • Products outside current capability (if any) screen – 4 weekly
  • 2nd screen – 6 weekly – To coincide with sales meeting

On presenting the above to the sales team, the initial feedback was that the process was too slow. It meant that a customer must wait at least 2 weeks and possibly 6 weeks to receive a response to an enquiry.

Agreement was reached on a fast-track procedure but only for key customers. This facilitated a worst-case response timescale of 1 week for products within current capability and 4 weeks for others.

No restrictions on product ideas applied at level1, so everything, however wild, was considered.

The sales role was to deliver a new product justification form for each new product. The form included details on the customer and decision-making team, the project, a full product description, target prices, sample delivery and production delivery timescales, including quantities.

The first pass screening process included the sales and marketing director and a product marketing executive. They focused on moving the process forward to deliver relatively quick feedback to sales.

Before the meeting, the Product Marketing Executive carried out initial desk research. This included a competition, product mix and basic capability review.

Gate 1 of the first pass screening process was to determine if the product fit with current capability; Gate 2 was lifetime financial value. Both gates were pass or fail. Surviving products were scored against several criteria including:

  • Competition.
  • Fit with the existing product range.
  • Key customer.
  • Relationship risk.
  • Strategic project.

Some were ranked 1-5, others 5-1, A 60% of the total score was required to move forward to screen2.

Before the capability and screen 2 meeting, participants had access to information gleaned from the screening process to date and sufficient time to undertake top-level research.

Screen 2 and capability review was a group discussion rather than a value-based gating process. The discussion group included department heads, finance and the sales and marketing director. If necessary, at Screen2, the relevant salesperson attended.

Challenges and Lessons

Each of the main lessons learned from the experience of the process is summarised below:

Data Input (Sales Form) – The data delivered by sales often proved unreliable. As sales became aware of screening criteria, some were able to massage the figures.

Me too – A high proportion of potential new products input by sales were copies of existing competitor products, rather than true new products.

Market focus – The process failed to address three of the 4A’s (Jagdish Sheth). That is market acceptability, accessibility and affordability across multiple potential customers and markets.

Research – Product and market research before screen 2 proved to be inadequate.
Financial gate – Subsequent analysis showed products with potential stopped at the financial gate. Part of the problem was the sales input form, but the major issue was forecasting the potential value of something new to the market.

Order requirement – Products surviving screen 2 failed to progress without a customer order. With hindsight, it was perceived some products should have progressed as a company-funded R&D process.

Agendas – Product ideas generated by key customers received undue attention over those (potentially better ideas) from smaller or new customers. New products perceived as lower risk (financial and capability) progressed ahead of those with more potential.

Human factors – The capability screen and screen 2 were open discussion forums without a scorecard. As in any group discussion, dominant personalities (especially those backed by seniority) tended to win the argument.

Conclusion

In principle, a new product screening process is a crucial step in ensuring the successful development and launch of innovative new products. A structured approach, such as a gated process guided by a scorecard, provides a logical and systematic framework. However, implementing such a process often fails to yield the expected results.

In the above example, hindsight showed many good and valid ideas were dropped. The main problems were human issues and a key customer focus. The process screened out ideas simply because they were perceived as too difficult or failed to fit with current manufacturing capability.

Experience shows a new product screening process is better than proceeding simply based on gut feel, but it is important to be aware of its limitations.

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