The early stages of the new product development process are most usually defined as idea generation, idea screening, concept development and concept testing. They represent the information and development of an idea prior to its taking any physical form. In most industries, it is from this point onwards that costs will rise significantly. It is clearly far easier to change a concept than a physical product. The subsequent stages involve adding to the concept as those involved with the development (manufacturing, engineers, product designers and marketers) begin to make decisions regarding how best to manufacture the product, what materials to use, possible designs and the potential market’s evaluations.
Commonly presented linear NPD model
- Idea generation
- Idea screening
- Concept testing
- Business analysis
- Product development
- Test marketing
- Monitoring and evaluation
Virtually, the process needs to be viewed as a simultaneous and concurrent process with cross-functional interaction.
The fuzzy front end
“Fuzzy front end” is the messy getting started period of new product development process. It is at the beginning of the process, or the front end, where the organisation develops a concept of the product to be developed and decides whether or not to invest resources in the further development of an idea. It is the phase between first consideration of an opportunity and when it is judged ready to enter the structured development process. It includes all activities from the search for new opportunities through the formation of a germ of an idea to the development of a precise concept. The fuzzy front end disappears when an organisation approves and begins formal development of the concept.
Although the fuzzy front end may not require expensive capital investment, it can consume 50 percent of development time and it is where major commitments typically are made involving time, money and the product’s nature, thus setting the course for the entire project and final end product. Consequently, this phase should be considered as an essential part of development rather than something that happens “before development”, and its cycle time should be included in the total new product development cycle time.
Customer involvement in NPD
Customers should be involved at an early stage in the process of NPD. Their integration is needed to fully capture ideas. However, involvement has been limited and largely passive in most industries. There are many reasons why, but perhaps the most limiting factor is the disconnection between customers and producers.
Nowadays, technology enables an innovative way of involving and integrating customers to the product development process. New technologies, usually in the form of “toolkits”, offer considerable scope for improving connections between consumers and producers. They allow customers to create their own product, which, in turn, is produced by the manufacturer. An example of a toolkit is the development of personalised products through uploading digital family photographs via the internet and having these printed on to products such as clothing or cups, thereby allowing consumers to create personalised individual products for themselves. Used toolkits for innovation are specific to given products or service types and to a specific production system. Within those general constraints, they give users real freedom to innovate, allowing them to develop their custom product via iterative trial and error.
Nambisan (2002) identifies three roles of customer interaction: customer as resource; customer as co-creator and customer as user.
Time to market
Time to market (TTM) is the length of time it takes from a product being conceived to it reaching the market place. TMM is important in industries where products are outdated quickly. It varies widely between industries e.g. 15 years in aircraft and 6 months in food products. However, firm’s TTM capability relative to its direct competitors is far more important than the naked figure.
Flexible product development is the ability to make changes to the product being developed or in how it is developed, even relatively late in the development process, without being too disruptive. Consequently, the later one can make changes, the more flexible the process is, and the less disruptive the change is, the greater the flexibility. Change can be expected in what the customer wants and how the customer might use the product, in how competitors might respond, and in the new technologies being applied in the product or in its manufacturing process. The more innovative the product is, the more likely it is that the development team will have to make changes during development.
Trott, P., 2008. Innovation management and new product development. Pearson education.