Finishing Well, Part 2

The 5-Step Guide to Taking Your Product Across the Finish Line

Step 2: Start Well to Finish Well

Step 3: Manage Well to Finish Well

Finishing Well Steps 2 and 3

The key to successful product design and development isn’t inspired ideas, efficient execution, or thoughtful marketability. It’s some balanced combination of the 3—a balance that can be difficult to strike, and even more challenging to integrate into your process and culture on a consistent basis.

But when you hone your focus (and that of your team) on the singular goal of finishing well, you can regularly achieve all these objectives at once.

What does “finishing well” really look like? You’ve come to the right place with that question, because at M3, we’re borderline obsessive about this approach.

To us, finishing well means happy clients whose goals have been met. To our clients, finishing well means creating a product that succeeds in the market and delivers results to the business.

In either case, our paths to finishing well are perfectly aligned. Which is why we’ve embarked on a deep dive into the topic: a 3-part series that examines the essential steps required to finish a product-development project well.

In our first post on the topic, we studied the “bathtub of value” and tackled step 1: how to select the right product development partner. Today, we’ll look at steps 2 and 3:

Step 2: Start Well to Finish Well

Now that you’ve selected your product development partner, it’s time to kick the project off right. Because a strong start is your best bet for achieving a strong finish.

Examine the idea

First, make sure that the idea is right. It might be flashy or exciting or innovative, but above all these things, it needs to be smart—meaning it should have a strong market case.

“Early on, we look at how something is going to be productized and built in the end,” says chief operations officer John Bernero. “So when we hand something off, we want to make sure it’s a concept that pushes the boundaries, but has some reality built into it—that we’ve created something that can be handled by the organization and retain its integrity as it moves into manufacturing and marketing.”

Communicate like crazy

From your earliest conversations, communicate every product requirement and project expectation with your PD team.

This might include explicit and implicit requirements, as well as some that seem too obvious to mention. But mention them. Discuss every single thing you will use to validate the concept—to determine whether or not it works.

Also, welcome all questions from your PD firm. It’s their job to ask, and the more they know, the better they can innovate efficiently and effectively.

Lift the curtain

Show your product-development firm what you have already done, why it has worked, and what hasn’t worked. This will reveal additional requirements and information that may not have come out during discovery.

Some companies believe that it’s best to keep this information close, to avoid influencing their PD partner. But your firm’s entire business is set up for free thinking and ideation, so they know how to break the walls off any box. (In fact, the best firms can’t help but break those walls down.)

“Without knowing what our clients have already done, we don’t know why it did or didn’t work—or why they didn’t like it,” explains Bernero. “If we know about those efforts from the outset, then when we start doing the concept work, we’re not wasting everyone’s time coming up with an idea they already looked at and didn’t pursue because of X, Y, or Z.”

Define your finishing vision

“We can finish well at any point,” asserts Bernero. “If we know early on where the handoff is going to be, we can tailor how we’re going to deliver and help ensure that the great finish can happen at any point along the way.”

With that in mind, it’s important to share your business model from the outset.

  • How are you going to make money?
  • What’s the market for this?
  • Why are you doing this?

Is this just a faster, smaller, lighter, better thing? Or is it trying to leapfrog where you’ve been? Truly innovative? All these questions will help the design firm finish well by providing more knowledge on what that looks like to you.

Step 3: Manage Well to Finish Well

In large part, managing your product-development program to a strong finish is a matter of preparedness. You can ready yourself and your team by focusing on these 3 areas:

1. Prepare to invest

Make sure you’re clear on the cost of taking your product to the finish line.

In the long run, finishing well is more economical than not finishing well—or not finishing at all. But the up-front cost can look intimidating.

2. Prepare for disruption (and prepare your team)

Market disruption requires leaps, not extensions. Leaps are risky, but there are risks to not leaping as well (namely, missed opportunity and market share).

“We look at the S curve—the innovation rate,” explains Bernero. “If you just do me-too products over and over again, you really don’t have an uptick in market penetration. In order to get a huge boost in market share, you need to come up with new stuff. And in order to do that, you can’t always be on the tail end of things in that market space. If you are, you’ll just get small, incremental changes.”

But every company is different when it comes to taking these leaps. So be realistic about how risk-tolerant you, your team, and your organization are. And communicate this to your PD firm from the outset—with examples, if possible.

“People expect more of products today,” Bernero goes on, “better usability, more ergonomic shapes. So how we model products now requires more advanced techniques. Which can mean that the best approach might be significantly different than what you’ve done before.”

In short, if you aren’t prepared for disruption, it can catch you off guard and stop you in your tracks.

Which brings us to…

3. Prepare for success

Sometimes a client gets surprised by a product because nothing like it exists on the market—there are no prior arts to go by. And we’ve seen products that haven’t made it to market simply because the company didn’t know what to do with a truly new product.

It might sound crazy, but a lot of companies can become like deer in headlights when the breakthrough they thought they wanted gets handed over.

“Product design is only one piece of the larger puzzle,” says business development executive Casey Branson. “It’s also essential to be prepared for success. If you’re trying to do something innovative, you need to be ready for what happens if your team figures it out. What’s the business model to help push it forward?”

What will you do with a great, game-changing innovation? Consider marketing, sales, service, and every other aspect. And proceed as if that success will inevitably come, so that when it does, you’re ready to move forward.

Bonus: if the right idea comes along with something unexpected (read: better than expected) in tow, you’re more likely to embrace that opportunity if you’ve prepared for success from the outset.

Up Next

In the next and closing post in this finishing well series, we’ll look at the 2 make-or-break final steps in a successful product-development program:

  • How to successfully transition a product back into your company
  • How to cross the finish line and manage that (often fateful) final 10% of a project like the boss that you are

So stay tuned!

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About M3 Design
Founded in 1996, M3 Design is a product development company located in Austin, Texas. We craft and execute product development strategies for leading technology-based companies.

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