New inventions, evolutions of existing products, or perhaps just a different package of a „same ol'“ — there are important steps to then developing the product and eventually releasing into the market.
There is not much difference there between a (becoming) Start-Up or an established company: You will make a determination whether the new product makes sense pursuing; or, looking from the other angle, can we allow not to bring out the new product.
The „Idea“ will be analyzed and its potential for success examined; and important questions such as „what does it take“ and „what does it cost“ need answers.
The feasibility of said idea will be outlined, and the three basic areas addressed:
- Who is your customer?
- What appeals them?
- How will they get the product?
A Business Plan would includes an Overview of the industry of the company and Trends with Market and Competitive analysis; a Mission Statement; then Management, Marketing, Finance, Operating plans.
Once the „go ahead“ is achieved, the next step follows.
Market or Product Requirements Document
Product marketing provides the description of the new product, its purpose, the features, the target market and the customers,and the opportunities, comparing against older versions (if any) and competing products, pricing and position, strengths and weaknesses.
The product may be part of a roadmap, embracing trends and new technologies as they will become available. The MRD or PRD will specify goals, delivery dates, system and technical requirements, compliance, documentation, quality and testing, support, and perhaps planned life-cycle.
Following the holistic approach, development teams (hardware engineering, software engineering, technical publications, quality, etc.) perhaps key suppliers and partners, and customer sales and service, are included in the very early stages to ensure the document is sound and specifications and goals and contingencies clearly understood and agreed upon in one pass.
Depending on the type and complexity of the product, whether it is a brand-new product or one that just got a bit revised, will determine the amount of preparations involved until start of the project.
A detail plan is then drafted to list the efforts required and the resources needed, the anticipated costs involved and the complete time line. A variety of tasks and subtasks are then identified with specific owners, priorities, efforts and resources and duration, inter-dependencies to other tasks highlighted, and such.
There can be also situations or events that will need to be included as well: Availability of certain rooms, machinery or equipment, awaiting Compliance Certifications, etc. Engineers working on various products may be „over-booked“; so conscious decisions re priority and affected tasks to coordinate among various products or projects are necessary.
Once the various pieces are compiled together, all or at least most of the resource requirements and prerequisites known, cost estimates are calculated. Questions to answer are:
- Can we do it?
- Everyone on board?
- Does it still makes sense?
If the answers are satisfactory, and the price tag is below the, well, „walk away“ limit, the product development can continue.
Each task requires a clear scope, precise specifications, a functional design where applicable, interfaces need to be listed and defined. Where one task is dependent of others, the hand-off parameters and the expectations have to be exactly spelled out.
The more detail (and thought!) is going into the design, the less problems will arise during development. A simple misunderstanding or a potential situation not considered early on and caught in initial stages, can have severe consequences if detected only very late and the repair turns out to be rather complex.
Of course, the design is a „living thing“, it may have inaccuracies, or requirements were revised due to economic or technological changes, or a detail may become more time consumptive than planned. There is consequently continuous feedback from development to design (and product marketing) teams.
Quality & Test and other teams (documentation, training, service) are involved in early stages so that they prepare appropriately and are ready for the new product to come. An elaborate test plan will be authored to spell out the tasks and procedures that are run to ensure the developed product is in fact the one described in the design. Manufacturing and sales and support teams (and the customers) will require product manuals and training courses. Perhaps an older products is being phased out, so migration plans to the next product have to be outlined.
To shorten the overall cycle time, bigger tasks (say, those taking longer than two or three months) are carefully split into smaller, ideally independent tasks. That way, the various teams (documentation, development, quality & test, operations, etc.) can work in parallel, rather awaiting full completion of the bigger tasks in their individual phases. Potential problems may arise where smaller, already completed tasks need to be revisited or perhaps even redone, due to discoveries or findings from subsequent tasks…
In each hand-off (from one team to the other), a checklist of the planned / accomplished (sub)tasks, with a updated action items chart. Program management drives the product development, monitors and communicates status of each task with the teams and stakeholders, ensures deliverables are fulfilled and milestones achieved — in time and on budget.
(to be continued)
© March 2010 Jürgen Menge, San José