Principles of Good Product Development

A development methodology

Product development is a complex process involving many poorly understood variables, relationships and abstractions. It addresses a wide range of types of problem, and is carried out by a wide variety of people, using a wide range of practices, methods and systems, working in a wide variety of environments. Converting a concept into a complex multi-technology product under these conditions is not easy. It requires a lot of effort, definition, analysis, investigation of physical processes, verification, trade-offs and other decisions. It's not easy, but it's not impossible if it's properly organized.

In many companies, the product development process is not commonly agreed, written down or formalized. It's vague. Everyone has a different idea of it - based on their knowledge and habits resulting from past experience. In this confused situation, whatever process is actually used is unlikely to correspond to the best way for the company to develop its products - which means the company is wasting time or losing money or running the risks of quality problems.

In coming years, product development performance must improve. It has to become faster, cheaper and better. Companies with undefined, ineffective development processes and methodologies will be uncompetitive. They will have to identify the best process and define their development methodology. Once these have been formalized and communicated, everyone in the development process will need to follow them - otherwise they'll run the risk of wasting company resources.

A well-defined product development methodology lets everybody in the process know exactly what is happening in the process at all times, and tells them what they should be doing. It defines the major phases of the process and explains what has to be done in each phase. It shows how the process fits with the company organization and structure. It shows the objectives and deliverables at the end of each phase, and the way phases connect together. It shows which processes, systems, methods, techniques, practices and methodologies should be used at which time in each phase. It shows the human resources that are needed - the people, skills and knowledge - and their organization. It shows the role and responsibilities of each engineer and the role of teams. It shows the role of management, project managers, functional reviewers, approvers, and others. It describes the major management milestones and commitments. It describes the metrics used in the process.

Companies without a well-defined product development methodology are likely to suffer from quality problems and projects finishing late and over-budget. The people in the company won't share a common view of the way they should be developing a product. The company will have problems with long cycle times, too many iterations of the design cycle, and too many engineering changes. It will always be trailing behind market-leading companies with regard to quality, cost and time-to-market of new and improved products. Often, such companies don't even realize they have problems until they've lost significant market share.

Companies without a well-defined product development process and product development methodology won't get the benefits they expect from initiatives to improve Engineering performance. Their spontaneous, haphazard approach will prevent them from defining and optimizing the process, so they won't be able to tailor the initiative to fit the process. Without a clearly defined methodology, it's not known which systems and practices are most appropriate - so the necessary integration of an initiative will be difficult to carry out. Any gains that come from use of an initiative in one place are likely to be lost in another place because a coherent solution hasn't been prepared.

Product development is becoming the fundamental differentiator for both the speed and cost with which new and improved products are brought to market. It's the activity where competitive advantage can be gained in quality and performance. Companies that understand this and put in place a clear product development process supported by a well-defined development methodology have every chance of becoming market leaders. They can use the methodology as the basis for involving people at all levels and in all functions in defining, designing, and producing the best product and getting it to market fastest. They'll improve profitability and competitiveness. During development of products they'll see ways to improve the process and the methodology. The continual improvement of new design methods, and changes in response to customer feedback, will keep them ahead of competitors who are forced to copy their methods, play catch-up, and condemn themselves to second place.

Many companies use a phased product development process is which the main steps are:
  • definition of customer needs and product performance requirements
  • planning for product evolution
  • planning for design and manufacturing
  • product design
  • manufacturing process design
  • production
Converting a concept into a complex, multi-technology product involves many steps of refinement. Companies that design successfully have carefully crafted product development processes that extend over all phases of product development from initial planning to customer follow-up.

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Page last modified on March 10, 2000
Copyright 2000 by John Stark