As developers at Push Interactions, we are often called on to assist our clients with the product development process. And as an app development company, we also work to develop our own products. On a daily basis, we are refining our product development process to identify market opportunities and design and develop new products that meet the market’s needs.
New Product Development is a discipline focused on developing systematic methods and guidelines for all the processes involved in taking a product from idea to market.
There are some principles and best practices we find helpful to ensure successful product engineering, and first among them is the process of developing your product vision and ensuring your project has the right leadership.
Product Vision and Leadership
The value of leadership in successful product engineering can’t be overstated. Leadership and vision makes the difference between sloppy R&D with no clear direction and incisive, profitable advancements.
Apple is a great example of this distinction. Although ranked as the top innovator in technology, the amount that they spend on innovation (just over 6 billion in 2014) makes up only 3% of their net sales. With the majority of companies ranging from 3-25%, this puts Apple firmly on the low end of R&D spending.
What makes the difference in Apple’s ability to derive big results from smaller spending is leadership, without which, R&D easily goes over-budget and delivers unfocused results.
What Effective Product Leadership Looks Like
Both your product leaders and company leaders must be engaged in the product development process. Engaged leaders inspire the team to see the product as part of a broad solution.
Product design impacts the whole company, its brand and its marketing. A team that understands this and has a strong relationship with the stakeholders performs better and is more motivated to solve stakeholder problems thoroughly and elegantly.
While engagement means clearly communicating the product strategy to the team, accessibility and a willingness to discuss top-level concerns is what will facilitate engagement on the team’s side.
Leaders should be available to team members for any clarification and refining discussions and should encourage team members to feel invested in the impact that their development will have.
In the development process, there are daily design decisions that will impact the product outcome as well as the company’s vision. While it’s rational to fear wrong decisions from team members, the alternative is a disengaged team that passes the buck on every decision. This will slow development as well as limit your pool of ideas.
A confident, well-informed team will move quickly and decisively instead of being hampered at every decision point. And a great product lead will be comfortable with unknowns, capable of sending the team to find a solution to a problem, not knowing what the solution might be.
The caveat to empowering teams is that the product lead must be comfortable owning the product vision. This will mean overriding the team and even sending back solutions to be changed or re-done. While validating the team’s ability to make daily design decisions, the lead must still be comfortable dictating strict parameters for solutions and rejecting solutions and ideas that don’t further the product goals.
A good product lead takes pains to surround themselves with a wealth of smart stakeholders, opinions and information, and this is where the R&D can break down and become unfocused.
A great product lead treats all these opinions as data points and looks for the overall patterns and project needs. In practical terms, developing for trends means saying ‘no’ to the majority of immediate ideas and requests in order to come back later with a more general solution for the problem behind the requests. It can also just mean saying ‘no’ to requests that don’t add enough value to the product to justify their cost. If you have great stakeholders, there will always be more ideas than you can include in one product.
As you may have deduced, a great product lead performs a constant balancing act between trusting and engaging, encouraging and overriding, staying open to new ideas and yet discarding most of them. Good decisions are made on the fly and, ideally, draw on a deep knowledge of the company, the market and the problem at hand.