7 Keys to Successful Product Development, Part III

Part 3: More Characteristics of Rock Star Product-Development Teams

Keys to Successful Product Development

Successful Product Development

In part 2 of this series, we began looking at the first few items on our list of 7 characteristics that define good product-development (PD) programs with excellent results. It’s a list I’ve complied over the course of 25 years of working with PD clients of every type: large corporations to start-ups, bureaucratic to entrepreneurial to dictatorial, open to process driven, haphazard to marketing or engineering driven.

Each one of these perspectives not only has an impact on results, but also on the way we, as consultants, manage projects to achieve our clients’ objectives.

Not surprisingly, some clients profit more than others, and I’ve identified this list of 7 key characteristics based on my experiences in the most successful programs.

Let’s look at the final 4 characteristics of rock-star clients we’ve worked with.

4. Transparent

Some clients are unnecessarily reticent about divulging company information. And this reluctance doesn’t tend to serve your efforts well. After all, your PD firm is bound by non-disclosure agreements.

But why do we need to know?

When we work with clients, especially new ones, it’s important to understand how a new engagement fits into the big picture for the company and product line. So it is exceptionally helpful to know what has been tried previously.

  • What has not worked?
  • What has shown promise?
  • What potential future evolutions of the product are planned?
  • What new technologies are being sought to deliver added value to the user?

This bigger picture allows our team to leverage the experience of the client and not spin wheels going down dead-end roads.

In addition, knowing the potential future vision allows our team to be creative in thinking through ways of accommodating modularity, future adaptation, and even in suggesting technologies that might support client goals.

Example: Foresight’s Better Than Hindsight

For one of our clients, the design team developed an electronic hand-held device for use in grade school classrooms as a collaboration tool. It was highly successful.

In this case, though, the client didn’t share the product roadmap, which included devices for security. And after the product was introduced, it was difficult to design an efficient solution for security.

If the design team knew about this plan and future requirement from the start, the product could have incorporated elements that would more easily integrate a security solution.

5. Know That They Don’t Know

I remember the days when many, if not most, product-development program managers relied on their own knowledge of their market to develop new products. But, over the past 15 – 20 years, the role of user research has grown into 1 of the most important factors of product success.

Today’s rock star clients know that they don’t know, and they rely on research to discover innovations. These rock stars have seen the impact of discovering insights through research, then leveraging that insight to deliver innovations that delight users.

Example: Depth Finding With User Research

There’s one story, albeit an old one, that I love to tell on this subject. It’s about an Alabama company whose claim to fame was in manufacturing depth sounders for fishing.

In the late 80s or early 90s, they commissioned a research study to interview fishermen. Their goal was to drive innovation.

What did they learn? The fishermen were happy to have a better understanding of the lake bottom, but they wanted more and better clarity. They wanted to see the bottom, fish, and structures.

This drive for clarity pushed the engineering team to explore other technologies for capturing and displaying data. The result of this effort was the discovery of 3D Sonar and the use of LCD display technology.

Research was only partly responsible for the success in this story, but it focused the product development team’s investment, with huge results. The breakthrough catapulted the $10 million company to solid market leadership and an increase in revenue to $60 million in 2 years.

Sometimes, clients want to dive into the conceptual work quickly, because it is frustrating to wait for the research analysis. But in most cases, the insights discovered during user research make believers out of everyone involved.

6. Confident

Client-side program managers have a tremendous responsibility to deliver on their programs. They work with finite budgets to get successful products into production. And in some cases, the outcomes of their work can result in billions of dollars in revenue over the life of the product.

With so much on the line, it can be tempting to micromanage the minutia of projects. But such micromanagement can stall innovation and become counterproductive.

I don’t mean to suggest that managers should ignore the need to manage consultants. Rock star clients provide clear goals, requirements, input, and direction. Then, they allow the development team to collaborate and iterate until the best solutions are achieved.

Be confident in the development firm you choose, and in the ability of their process to deliver results.

7. Visionary

John Sculley said, “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”

Rock star clients have a vision about how their new product will end up and what impact it will have in the market.

Why is this important to us as innovation and product development consultants? In the constructive environment created by the 6 characteristics described above, consultants like M3 are best positioned to help answer the questions of visionary clients—questions like

  • “What if the product could…”
  • “What technology can we use to meet this user need?”
  • “How can we move from 3rd in the market to 1st?”

Such vision is the fuel for innovation.

The results of visionaries are all around us—leaders like Sculley, Bill Gates, or even Mark Zuckerberg, who drive their teams, both inside and out, to achieve great things.

There is nothing like the experience of collaborating with diverse teams allowed to fully apply their strengths toward innovative solutions. The only thing greater is seeing the result of this type of collaboration: the launch of successful products, and the delighted users who embrace them.

Example: Life-Saving Product Development

I saw a great example of this visionary effect when working with an early-stage company in Virginia. The company’s president saw a dire need to save children from a dangerous mishap that can occur with an intravenous (IV) line, causing IV-administered drugs to infiltrate and kill the surrounding tissue, sometimes leading to amputations.

The president came up with a product idea, went through full development, and ended up with a now FDA-approved product that saves lives and limbs.

The company now has the market on the edge of its seat in excitement over these devices, and the president has a vision for how this and other products in the pipeline will improve IV therapy and patient outcomes.

Rock Star Clients: Our Super Heroes!

The job of product innovators is extremely challenging. They’re constantly dealing with diverse and rapidly changing parts, and they’re up against unforgiving deadlines.

But they earn accolades because they make tremendous impact for their companies, users, and markets. They create jobs. They help meet the needs and desires of the stakeholders for the products they create.

And, in the end, they love their jobs. And they should. Because they can look back at their blood, sweat, and tears, and know that they’re truly making a difference.


About M3 Design
Founded in 1996, M3 Design is a product development company located in Austin, Texas. M3 is a team of world-class designers and engineers that challenge convention to help their clients maximize business opportunities by creating exceptional products and experiences with them.

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