Whether you’re an entrepreneur or engineer, struggling or sophisticated, bringing a product to market is fraught with challenges and pitfalls. Product development means being specific about a not-so-specific thing, namely, the new product you are developing. To make your product vision a reality, the process requires your commitment of resources and concentration of efforts as well as ingenuity. Here are 8 steps to help you navigate the product development process.
1. Write things down.
Put your ideas on paper; starting with the basic product outline: problem to be solved, product function, purpose, features, benefits, etc., then follow up with specific details. Identify specific technologies to be used, i.e., Wired or wireless, Ethernet or Bluettooth, keypad, touchscreen, or card reader? Make the product specifications clear and concise to avoid misinterpretation. Also, put together a realistic time-line from product development through market delivery. Don’t forget to include product marketing strategies.
2. Do your own market research.
Examine competitor products on the market. How is your idea different, better, functional, or cost effective? Outline all the pros and cons of your product vs. the competition. Don’t hesitate to reveal your product idea to others and ask for their input but first ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Everybody has ideas, but only an entrepreneur (you) will take the steps to make it happen.
3. Research intellectual property rights.
Conduct a patent search to determine if your technology is proprietary to someone else. Patents can help you get investments dollars for your product. File for a product patent at the earliest opportunity. Obtaining a patent generally takes two years, so having a patent-pending is a great way to protect your product’s proprietary elements. Also, make sure your product complies with the appropriate agency requirements, i.e., FCC, UL, or CE, depending on your target market. If you are working with a design company, they can handle this for you.
as a resource and the Federal Communications Commission www.fcc.gov
4. Document changes made along the way.
As you move through the design development process—brainstorming with the design team -- be sure to write down changes made to the design schematic, timeline, costs, etc. This is the best way to make sure the entire team knows which of the agreed upon changes should be made and when to make them.
5. Outline cost targets.
Can you build your product for a decent price and then sell it for a respectable profit? The product cost always relates back to the product design and features. Often times, creeping enhancements to your original product design—adding more bells and whistles—not only add to the product’s cost but also to a loss of focus, functionality and time to market. Consider the cost verses return before making design changes along the way and limit them to keep product development costs in check. Save the major changes for the next product version or ferret them out at the get-go.
6. Create a prototype.
A prototype of your new product will help you determine the functional feasibility of the design. Time is money and the quicker you can get your product to market, the better. Reach out to a product design company that practices a rapid prototyping methodology, if you do not have the means to create your new product. They can help refine your product design and also manufacture it. Many new product developers try to pack too much into the first version of their product—being so close to it. Remember, the product serves the market, so let the market dictate any changes that need to be made.
7. Allow time for manufacturing and marketing.
Your time-line should include these two processes. Don't forget to allocate adequate dollars to market test your product. Your marketing plan should be developed simultaneously with your production schedule. When you have the working prototype, test-market it among those who would use it and in the environment they would use it. Get their honest feedback. Your next product version can include the added elements, if need be.
8. After sales needs.
Most products have warranties, after sale services, upgrades, or refurbishment. Ask if the product development company you’ve hired will address your service needs as well. Build these elements into your time-line.