5 states of product development….

Blog 6. Tue 14 Apr 2020
Making a difference by design…

5 states of product development….

Last week I was wondering about the new world we’re finding ourselves in and the opportunities it brings. (Find last blog here) To me this feels like one of those ‘stop to sharpen your axe’ moments. Rather than just keep chopping the blocks with our heads down, now is a good time to stop, stand up, reflect, and think: if I’d sharpen my axe now, would I get through the work a lot quicker?

For product development, we have a choice, we can just ‘survive’ this situation, or we can ‘revive’ and ‘thrive’.

It starts with a decision: What do you want your new world to look like? Do you just want to survive and get back to what you already had? That’s easy and not much planning needed.

Or do you want to Revive: Get back in the offices with a new approach and pace to product development? If you are starting it up again why not start it up better? Much better. It won’t be the same for the team anyway, we are now all used to work from home. It’s a new world.

Or, do you aspire more and want the best? To really Thrive. To transition the business to a place that is exceptional. To lead the world with your innovations. Be the global centre of innovation.

We won’t be limited to just best practice, we will help you put in place the structure that allows you to have no ceilings on you but rather a cycle of continuous improvement that sees you at all times moving toward better.

Sounds good. How do you get there?

I’ve learned you can’t just change to Thrive in one go, it’s a more gradual process. It takes a few changes to each of the above three ‘dials’: to the System (incl. the process, that can be quick), some new Skills (takes some learning and getting used to), and a Set up (this might include a mindset change, which depending on how keen your team is, might take a bit of adjusting).

Over the years I’ve worked with many companies and have seen many different versions of NPD processes. I group them in 5 states:

Starting at the bottom there’s the Messy state. This is often where the company once started as a start-up or when working on its first own developed products. It starts with a lot of fun and excitement, there’s no process to follow so you make it up as you go, learning from others and just sheer enthusiasm and grid gets you there. It’s typically combined with a lot of ‘back to the shed’, number 8 wire and ‘kitchen bench’ trials. No one takes note of the many hours that go in, it’s often done in the evening or ‘side-hours’, so working out the Return On your Investment (ROI) is pretty much impossible. And that might be good, as the ROI is probably not pretty, but it got the new news out in the market and hopefully the sales in. The next product will be an improvement and go quicker. Right?

Then there are the companies that realise that to do NPD more often they might need some sort of a process. They Request a Structure. Typically, someone in the team gets landed with the job of ‘write up a process’ and they do a bit of digging and about 80% of companies around the world end up with a Stage-Gate or Phase & Gate or ‘Waterfall’ style process. Process in place, job done. Tick. On to the next job. The team begrudgingly uses the process to some extent (typically the Gates are non-existent) and some meetings are put in place. It comes down to each ‘project lead’ on how close the process is used. Fast forward several months and most companies find that although the team now all use the same process to manage their projects not much else has changed. Product development is still unpredictable, gobbling up way more hours out of your day than you like, the product launches still cause last moment stress for the company and ROI is poor.

Then a tiny move happens: Someone gets frustrated. And the frustration gets them to dig deeper, learn more about NPD, wonder what other companies are using, what other industries are doing. They start reading up and sharing some of their reading and learning. And if that learning meets a listening ear in the management team a little seed is planted. And depending on the soil (the company mindset, the culture and the managers mindset) and regular watering of new ideas the seed starts to grow. It’s a fragile process. This little seed takes the company on a learning journey, investigating different processes and tools, trying them out, measuring and learning. And slowly they work out a process that works for them. It’s Rising. And on that journey the ROI of new products starts to improve.

“If PD works the whole team is happy”

And magically, the manager finds he can trust the team to run the projects he no longer needs to micromanage them. It feels like a Release – Freedom! He now surprisingly finds himself with time to focus on the other parts of the business. The communication is flowing, the launches are predictable, and the pipeline of new products looks great. Freedom!

“Most valuable is Saskia’s (and now our team’s) commitment to results.
NPD is now self-sustaining and ongoing. For me, as CEO, it means I can confidently move my focus to other parts of our business.” – Matthew O’Brien, CEO Kiwicare.

By now the team is on a roll, and not just the NPD team, the wider company is. Innovation, learning and improving has become a new mindset. And it’s showing, in the product range, the product quality, on the faces of your team and the ROI. It doesn’t matter anymore if someone in the team, or even the manager, leaves, it’s now part of the company’s DNA. The organisation just can’t help itself but learn, improve, find faster better ways. You’re sharing your learning with your suppliers and the wider world. It’s energising. NPD is Rocketing. And its shows in the ROI.

Where in this model are you and your team? Which state describes your situation best? Let me know. (And you’ll help me with a little research project that I’m doing).

Now is the time to sharpen your axe. Are you ready?
You can get ball rolling: start learning, start investigating. It will start to grow the little NPD seed.

Can you do this on your own? Sure. Start reading, start learning. (Start with the books below).

Can you hack the process and go through the states quicker? Sure can. It’s like learning a sport. You can learn it yourself, but with a coach it just goes much quicker. I call it the ‘personal trainer’ effect. Because you’ve got a meeting with a personal trainer you will get out of bed at a ridiculous early hour of the day and get to the gym. And because they have the expertise and experience, you’ll get fitter, faster, injury free.

The learning starts with understanding each of the 3 dials. It’s a conversation away.
And yes, I can happily do this via phone or Zoom.

New tiny programme: For this new world we find ourselves in I’ve created a special ‘New world’ bite-size 4-week Thrive programme to help you get started. 4 Weeks, because that feels like a predictable time frame right now, right? The programme is set up in short & sweet ‘Zoom’-munchable sessions and includes training, exercises and coaching. All done online or via phone. You’ll receive all the presentations and recordings, which means anyone who missed it can watch it later. The result will have you and the team ready to move up a state. It’s a tiny investment to grow a tiny seed.

If you’d like to learn more, just give me a call (021-68 49 68) or flick me an email here to set up a chat.

And if you’re a reader, you can start watering the seed by reading these 2 books:


  1. “Ready, Set, Dominate” by Michael C. Kennedy.

This book is a great intro into Lean NPD. It’s written as a business novel, making it a very easy read. It describes two business cases of companies implementing Lean NPD. One of those companies is our very own F&P Appliances, making this book an even more intriguing read. Buy the book here.


  1. “High Velocity Innovation” – by Katherine Radeka 

My favourite book at the moment. It’s spells out several widely used NPD processes, their pros and cons and Radeka’s recommendations. And it features two New Zealand companies: Gallaghers and Trimax. It’s available on Kindle and Audio book here. You can get it now. Then place the order for the paper hard copy with your local NZ retailer (who can really use your business) and pick it up after the lockdown.

Love to hear your thoughts! Where are you at? Where do you want to go?

Onwards & upwards,

ps. Give me a ring (021-68 49 68) or hit reply here to set up a chat!

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