New Product Development

Key building blocks that should form the foundations for any New Product Development (NPD) process.

A product development process is a series of iterative steps followed to engineer a novel solution or create a new product design. Whilst there are many variations of this process available there is no a one-size-fits-all approach, there are however some key steps that should form the foundations for any new process.

I would always advocate keeping things simple and wrapping your process around key decision gates where your work can be independently shared and peer reviewed. This peer review is really important to prevent silo’d thinking and mitigate an over reliance on “non-critical” feedback. After all no one likes to hear that they may have made a mistake, or wasted time, money and effort, but in reality it is much better to get this feedback early in process before testing failures, or poor customer reviews.

The starting point for New Product Development (NPD) is always a statement of the problem you are trying to solve.  As the process of design is highly iterative it can be easy to loose track of the original problem you are trying to solve. Having a high level objective statement is really important to provide a north star that can correct your course back to the intended destination. For example when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone his problem statement may have read something like, “Provide a method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds across great distance”. 

The design processes I tend to implement are wrapped around 4 key phases and 5 gated reviews based on the Design Councils Double Diamond. The graphic shown below illustrates the relationship between the project phases that generate the inputs to the gated reviews.

The first decision gate, D1, confirms the problem being solved is the correct one, that there is sufficient likelihood of project success and should also agree the pre-requisite inputs into subsequent gates.

The Discovery phase is where the team then establish the solution requirements, which means specifying the features and functionality of the product, as well as the limitations and constraints and target market and desired user experience. These criteria are then collated into a requirements document, or specification, which will be used to guide the development of the solution and is agreed via peer review at decision gate D2.

When we have establish the success criteria for the product the next phase seeks to Define potential solutions. The generation of ideas can be done through brainstorming, market research, or customer interviews, the goal being to come up with a range of potential design solutions that are both feasible and desirable. Whilst a solution may look great and feel novel, does it solve the original problem and is it viable considering the real world constraints you have defined? D3 represents an independent review to agree the down-selection of the preferred concept. Consider the use of a Pugh Matrix to score the preferred solutions against the key requirements in the specification. This is where experienced peer review can really help, as we need to assess our preferred solutions with sufficient rigour to demonstrate their viability, however go into too much detail, too early and we can introduce avoidable cost and schedule over runs.

Once we have a preferred solution (or solutions) the team set about to Develop the detailed design, selecting materials, creating detailed CAD models and undertaking appropriate analysis to verify performance predictions. At the end of this phase any limiting aspects of performance shall be well understood and a design scheme shall be available defining Critical Characteristic Features (CCFs), attributes and tolerances, as well as assembly, integration & manufacturability requirements. D4 reviews the refined solution and supporting verification evidence before releasing the design team to Deliver the final solution. Other considerations at this gate may be the agreement to release any long lead production tooling orders.

Prototyping can take a variety of forms and will typically happen during the Develop and Deliver phases. Sub-scale models may be desirable to demonstrate aspects of the technical solution for testing in controlled environments. Once we have sufficient confidence in the design, typically through successful completion of D4, the next step may be to prototype a full scale working model of the product that can be used to prove the design and functionality. This prototype can be used for real world validation testing and customer feedback and will inform any final changes to the design. It also provides an opportunity to work with potential production suppliers to ensure the product can be manufactured. Production prototypes establish that a product can be manufactured repeatably, at the required rate and to the specified quality and involves further collaboration with production suppliers to optimise the design for manufacture and cost. When, where, how and if this happens can be dependent on a variety of factors such as, production volumes, novelty of design and required manufacturing process capability, or for your organisation this may be a handover at D5, into manufacturing engineering.

The final stage represents the culmination of the design teams effort, finalising the detailed production drawings, concluding the design report that records the rationale and evidence to justify and substantiate the final design. The final gate D5, releases the design into manufacture and authorises all supporting documentation and the associated technical file as complete.

The product development process can be long and complex so it is important to be organised and have a clear plan to help avoid the numerous potential pitfalls. I have both operated and written scalable product introduction design processes for a number of years and can offer real world experience navigating the challenges in new product development. Having experience on your side, and contingency in your budget and schedule will help, but it’s important to understand that creating something new is rarely plain sailing…but that didn’t stop Alexander Graham Bell, or Steve Jobs!