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28th September 2020

8 stages of the product development process

Through our work helping companies navigate the full product development process we see many of the stumbling blocks. Here’s some advice on how to make things go as smoothly as possible and get the most out of it for long term product success.

1. New Idea

This is it, the ultimate lightbulb moment. When and where you dream up your new idea varies wildly. Our MD Richard Fletcher for example, tends to have them whilst lying on a beach somewhere. Others write down 1,000 ideas only to find their eureka moment when clearing out paper they’ve chucked away, and realise they’ve stumbled upon something great.

Your excitement for this new product is tangible and you’re giddy with the idea of the successful business you’re going to grow out of it. Not to mention the people you’re going to help…

There are two stumbling blocks that can occur at this early stage…

Not moving fast enough

You send out a few emails to investors and start creating the product, but design consultants aren’t getting back to you and the technical process stagnates. Meanwhile competitors start trickling onto the market and you lose the first mover advantage. When things aren’t progressing, it can be frustrating to say the least. The best way to keep the momentum flowing is to quickly understand the feasibility of the idea, understand what competition is around and figure out exactly where your funding is going to come from. This review will help you consider exactly what needs to happen and when, so it’s clear if things are starting to stall or you start to veer off on the wrong path.

Moving too fast

Let’s say you’ve designed a new electronics toy, the process goes swimmingly and you go to launch. But there’s no sign of that tidal wave of sales you expected and none of the hype you were banking on. What’s worse, bad reviews start showing up when you do make a sale…so what happened?

You didn’t do the research

It’s always good to test your theory using a survey or a focus group of potential users. There are ways to do this without giving away exactly what you’re creating. Ask your target audience via social media and other channels about their pain points and their interests to find out if there is actually a need for the product. Also, whilst no one wants to find out their product already exists, it’s always worth checking. It could be that one doesn’t exist because someone tried and failed before; of course it could be they just didn’t consider the possible functionalities in the way you have. You may find that friends and family say that your idea is great – that’s not necessarily true as they may just be protecting your feelings!

You forgot about the marketing budget

Product development can be a costly business. It’s important to remember to allocate a budget for the post launch stage. If you want to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign, you may also need to build hype around the project to maintain a high level of interest – and this in itself can incur a cost.

Consider your market channels carefully. If you’re going down the e-commerce route there are pros and cons of using reselling partners. Carefully weigh up their credentials to decide if their distribution networks make up for the loss in profit margins when they take a cut. Ensure you’re using the best social media channels for your chosen market and try and generate as much organic interest as you can, to support any paid campaigns. Look for influencers in your field, for example parenting or technology. Remember that your new customers need to trust you, so try and establish a reputation and build a network before the product launch. If possible, start a website and build domain authority whilst waiting for your launch date.

Checking Product feasibility

There can be several things that trip up a product after launch that can lead to bad reviews. Many of these can be avoided. These include:

  • The battery life is shocking – Read product reviews on Amazon and it won’t be long until you spot a complaint about battery life. Power consumption reduction is a useful tactic to boost battery life by increasing capacity or using less energy.
  • Your product is expensive – Pricing strategy is all well and good but profit margins can be quickly squeezed by production costs. We often see products go to market with redundant features or costly components which can be designed out altogether. Here’s our recent blog with 7 ways to reduce product costs. Preliminary BoMs during the feasibility stage of the project can ensure that your rough cost is in line with final unit cost targets.
  • You are trying to break the laws of physics – Time machines, perpetual motion and shrink rays sound like they could be a great product. Its worth checking that the thing you want to make is possible, there may be a reason it doesn’t already exist.

Proof of concept or product feasibility studies can help you evaluate if your product idea is viable. This sounds like a negative but having an expert give you the go ahead to move to the next stage can be very empowering and give you the confidence and drive to move forward and invest in your idea.

Take away point: Always check your concept and think about post launch strategies.

2. MVP/Prototype

MVP’s or Minimum Viable Products are not always the prettiest of things. This isn’t the point of them! What an MVP allows you to do is have something tangible you can use to test out ideas, see how real users interact with it and show investors so they can understand the concept. This makes your idea far easier to pitch. Whilst the product feasibility study helps you prove an idea to yourself the MVP helps you to establish the product specification and to prove that idea works for others. The famous Dyson vacuum was first created as a cardboard prototype and took over 5000 iterations to get right!

Take a look at James Dyson’s story

If the cardboard route sounds unappealing to you then 3d printers, glue guns and a CNC router, together with development kits (such as those we have on-site at our Ignys Lab), can produce something much more aesthetically pleasing.

Our MVP blog dives deeper into this idea and the concept of using several iterations of an MVP to your advantage.

Take away point: An experimental low-cost prototype is a great step forward towards the perfect product

3. Production Candidate

Now you’ve graduated from your MVP and have used the learning to specify and prototype a product that’s functional and has been designed for manufacture.

This is the part in the process when product testing becomes particularly important. Why? Because one product is more predictable than producing it at volume. Get the initial product wrong and successful volume manufacture goes out the window. You don’t want to deal with a product recall later. So what do you need to be testing for?

  1. Functionality – Does your product do what it says on the tin? If you say it has a feature does it always work and if so, does it work over a long period of time?
  2. Environments – Does your product work in humid conditions for instance? Is it designed to work alongside other products and if so, will there be any interference? This interference could be due to clashing radio frequencies or overheating. It could also be that a nearby product interferes with yours.
  3. Product costs Make sure you use components which are easily accessible in the long run. It’s a worthwhile exercise to protect against product obsolescence. It could also be the case that you’re overengineering a product to offer features that aren’t needed, for example does your product need 3 charging points?
  4. Your product can’t stand the heat – Your product may be used in heatwaves or winter freezes and if the components break at hot temperatures or malfunction you could be left with a useless product. This is particularly detrimental if the product is based around measuring or sensors. An inaccurate product is worse than useless. Environmental testing chambers are a useful way to test a product without taking it to bizarre locations.
  5. Edge cases – Your end user gives their gadget to their child who presses the on and off switch together and suddenly the gadget is going AWOL. Edge cases happen when a customer uses a device in a way you haven’t predicted because it doesn’t normally happen.

Takeaway point: Test Test Test

4. Compliance Testing

It’s very tempting to leave compliance to the last minute but pre-compliance testing has a large impact on lifetime profitability. “Pre-compliance testing provides the ability to perform a quicker set of sets, at a correspondingly lower cost”.

There is no point making the perfect product with just the customers in mind, because if your product doesn’t meet the necessary standards then your product won’t ever get to them. In order to hit the ground running with compliance it’s important to either understand the product’s sector inside out, or use experts who do (in other words they have domain experience). There are many standards to consider for example safety reasons or interference with other devices. To make matters more complicated these may vary from country to country.

Takeaway point: Design your product with compliance in mind early on.

5. New Product Introduction

This is the point at which you need to find the right manufacturing partner for your particular product needs.  Factors such as annual volume, pricing, quality standards, responsiveness, change control, ability to deal with technical issues, batch sizes and credit terms all come into play.

When you’ve chosen your manufacturer from a shortlist there should be a stage of New Product Introduction.  This is where all of the instructions, processes and equipment intended to produce your final product in volume are used but for a much smaller batch.  The purpose of this is to test that the design (which should be finalised and stable) can be made reliably and repeatedly.

This is where you can find problems with scale up. Fortunately, there are some exceptional CEMs out there (you just need to know how to spot them). Luckily, we have some insider knowledge to help you find the right fit.

Takeaway point: This is a critical stage of the cycle.

6. Volume manufacturing support

Your manufacturing partner will often dictate the lead time and price of your products. There are pros and cons of using larger manufacturing partners. For example, if you’re a start-up running small volumes, you may find you get less attention from a manufacturing giant. However, if you’re an SME with multiple products, or are looking at a large production run, then you may find that a smaller manufacturer has the resources to carry out the production schedule you’re looking at.

Overseas production can be a cost-effective method if you research thoroughly beforehand. However, we know many of our customers like to support local or UK based manufacturers and we have many contacts for this as well.

Testing the process with test fixtures

Automatic test fixtures can be a good way to check products are correct each time they are shipped. Unfortunately, these tend to be quite pricey pieces of equipment with long lead times.

Luckily, we’ve designed rapid deployment test fixtures to be more cost effective and, more importantly, have shorter lead times of around 2 weeks.

7. Cost Reduction evaluation

Once your product has been launched and you’ve hit the ground running with sales you can explore new options to make your product perform even better at lower unit costs.

We have several cost reduction techniques to help you with these, many of which have already been mentioned in this article. Therefore if you’re reading this blog and you already have a product on the market we can help you here.

Take away point: Save on product unit costs means more profits later.

8. Extending the product lifecycle

Obsolescence protection is an important part of the product development process, but this is often the forgotten underdog. There are a few things to consider for extending the product lifecycle.

  1. Protection against emerging technology – This isn’t always possible. You could invent a ‘DVD;’ the same year Netflix comes out; or invent the next big ‘mobile phone’ when a virtual reality device completely takes over communication. However, on a much smaller scale, designing in features that may add a small cost to the product but make it relevant for longer are worth considering.
  2. Protecting against component obsolescence – Use an expert with a library of components to help you use ones that will both save you costs but also are likely to be around for longer. Avoid using components that are unique which may lead to a costly redesign if the manufacturer stops producing them. This happens more than you think.
  3. Keep inventing – Don’t shy away from new technology and keep dreaming up the next best thing.

Takeaway point: Give your product the longest life possible with some extra checks

Need some help?

The product development process has a lot of moving parts, a bit like the product you’re designing and getting a delicate balance between testing and moving quickly can be confusing.

We’ve helped many entrepreneurs through this journey. Book a free video call to discuss where you’re at in the process and your sticking points.

Contact Ignys

Article authorship: This blog was created by Hannah Ingram marketing manager at Ignys. Supported with input from members of the Ignys Management team. Hannah has worked within the electronics design specialist field since she began her employment at Ignys and also has experience of tackling the threats of product obsolescence during her time in telecommunications as well as being involved at the idea and feasibility stage for New Product Development in the healthcare sector.