7 Keys to Successful Product Development, Part II

Part 2: Characteristics of Rock Star Product-Development Teams


This is the 2nd in a 3-part series that looks at the keys to successful product-development (PD) programs. In the first post, 7 Tips for Selecting the Right Product Development Firm, I outlined the key considerations in choosing a product-development resource for an important project. In this post, we’ll discuss some factors that set apart good programs with excellent results from those that aren’t so good.

In 25 years of working with PD clients, I have learned that they come in all measures: large corporations to start-ups, bureaucratic to entrepreneurial to dictatorial, open to process driven, haphazard to marketing or engineering driven.

Each perspective has an impact on results—and on the way that we, as consultants, manage projects to achieve our clients’ goals.

But some clients profit more than others. And I’ve identified 7 key characteristics of these successful programs. Let’s look at the first 3 today and tackle the last 4 in a subsequent post.

1. Passion for Innovation

Some of the most successful programs begin with a client whose primary goal is to win market leadership—and who is open in terms of how to get there.

These clients are passionate and committed to innovation, in terms of both the product and process. In many cases, the client provides the technology expertise while we bring expertise in innovation and product development.

After all, as consultants, PD firms have seen hundreds of technologies, researched hundreds of users, and employed many diverse approaches to find innovations. The smartest clients recognize the value of this experience and take full advantage of our core strengths, while we take full advantage of their subject-matter expertise.

Example: From Passion to Market Penetration

One large surgical-device program began with a very granular approach to innovation. The client’s primary goal was segment leadership, and for this next-generation device, nothing was a given.

Together, we reevaluated every technology and subsystem for its approach to delivering core functionality, as well as its efficiency, technological improvements, usability, manufacturability, and cost competitiveness.

The result:

  • Significant gains in the way the overall product delivered for all stakeholders
  • Major market penetration
  • Trade buzz

Obviously, not every project can afford this level of time and focus. But for the right program, such an approach can mean significant returns on the innovation investment.

2. Wise Program Management

Some of the best clients I’ve worked with had program managers who’d been through enough projects to understand the product-development process. These managers could recognize the difference between important and critical. They understood what it costs to commercialize a product. And they knew how to lead and work with internal teams as well as consultants.

Consultants love to lead and manage programs, but it makes our job much easier when we work collaboratively with an experienced client-side manager.

Insight: The Right Concept

This can play out in many ways, but here’s a key example: experienced program managers show wisdom in the critical decisions involved in commercializing the right concept.

What’s the total cost of getting a product into the hands of an end user? We all know that figure can be enormous. It not only includes the cost of product development, but also of manufacturing, packaging, regulatory, marketing, advertising, sales ramp up, etc.

So it’s of the utmost importance that the concept be right—the design, features, interactions, functionality, branding…in a nutshell, the overall experience.

The wise program manager knows how to balance all the factors that will connect with the user to deliver product success. Research and user feedback is a critical factor in making these decisions.

3. Immersive Relationships

One of the reasons M3 enjoys exceptional client retention is that we try to create strong bonds with our clients (in addition to doing good work!). Rock star clients become part of our team, and we become part of theirs.

In projects where the client keeps a distant relationship with their innovation partner, an implied sentiment can enter the equation: “These guys don’t know our business. We’ll give them just enough rope to hang themselves.”

This attitude creeps into every interaction, from the proposal process to project meetings, invoicing, and almost every other point of contact.

Rock star clients, on the other hand, make an investment in creating a professional relationship with their PD firm, treating this outside team like an extension of their own. Once this happens, the consultant begins to invest creative talents—even outside of commissioned projects—to find ways to bring innovation to the client.

This high-level type of relationship sometimes evolves over the course of a few programs, as all parties build the trust and commitment necessary to become truly collaborative.

Idea: A Social Start

If possible, before a major program launches, I like to bring the client and consulting teams together for a social event. This encourages the 2 teams to get immersed in the project, get to know their peers, and get familiar with key concerns.

This approach has proven invaluable in enhancing the team’s working relationships, mutual respect and effectiveness.

We’ll continue this list in our next post, but first, let us know how you rank on this list so far—and what other factors you believe are key to successful partner relationships.


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.

One Comment on This Topic

  1. Mark Schnitzer on said:

    This is great Dean, thank you. Perhaps this may be discussed in the third part, but I would elaborate on building a product development team, specifically the individuals. There is a shift in design firms from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary teams. As described by Tim Brown, multidisciplinary teams produce a collective ownership of ideas, rather than a gray compromise. In order to achieve this team, you must hire “T shaped” individuals who bring an added dimension to the role. The vertical being depth of talent, and the crossing of the T being a complimentary background, (industrial designer with an MBA, an architect with masters in psychology.) These design thinkers are more equipped to solve complex design problems.

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