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Can your innovation be too flexible?

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New Product Development Processes - How flexible should you be?A frustrated business executive recently asked me to help diagnose his company’s new product development processes. They had taken several new products most of the way through design only to have to go back and revise the design, and he felt like they were starting to go in circles.

When I asked what had caused the change, he said that a competitor had brought out an improved product while they were still in the product development phase. With the competitors announcement, adding similar features had forced them to go back and make major changes to the designs. They had done this more than once resulting in a significant delays for what should have been relatively straightforward new products.

But why were relatively straightforward projects taking so long that competitors were beating them to market in the first place? As we continued to dig for the root of his problem, I asked how early in the development of new products they were gathering customer requirements and freezing the design requirements. Talk about an “aha” moment as he realized he was allowing the entrepreneurial head of new products to operate without ever solidifying these requirements.

He had never seen the harm of allowing the product development team “some flexibility.” But as we discussed the situation, it became clear that this issue went beyond mere flexibility. Instead of identifying critical new product requirements, the team was allowing the design requirements to emerge as new products were being developed. This was creating multiple loops to go back and “fix” the work that had already been done. These loops were delaying projects so badly that competitors were launching new features and again sending them back to the drawing board.

If you face a similar situation, here are several changes you can make to get out of the flexibility loop that’s slowing your new product throughput:

  1. Freeze Requirements – Specify critical new product requirements in the project plan before your constrained design and development resources begin work.
  2. Stay Frozen – Only allow changes to critical requirements if the market changes dramatically. This would include game changing prices or features added by competitors are so compelling that they would obsolete your product before it launches.
  3. View new product launches as a continuum – Minor improvements and features added by competitors should not be ignored, but should be considered for subsequent versions of the product.

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