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5 Conventional Wisdoms That Hold Product Development Back

To bring products to market faster and more successfully, there are a number of conventional product development wisdoms you need to abandon. Learn why.

Gray McCord

March 20 th 2024 | 6 min read

If you’re a visionary leader operating within a conservative corporate culture, it probably feels risky to propose a radical new design concept for your next product. That’s especially true if your in-house designers, engineers, and managers are steeped in conventional, dare we say old school, thinking. When your ideas are quickly vetoed and met with responses of “it can’t be done” or “we’ve always done it this way,” it can feel professionally dangerous to keep pushing up against a seemingly unyielding wall of resistance.

But push you must. After all, you know minor iterations and incremental gains won’t sustain your organization’s success for long. And they certainly won’t enable you to catapult past the competition.

With disruptors ready to steal your market share overnight, business as usual can easily lead to business extinction. And that means clinging to what worked in the past while competitors embrace the future is simply not an option.

You might not be able to go from zero to sixty when it comes to creating a culture of product development innovation. But by letting go of some of the more outdated conventional wisdoms, you’ll help your organization take a huge step in the right direction.

1. Designing Custom Parts for Your Product Is Too Complicated and Expensive

Many product developers operate as though their hands are tied when it comes to the design choices they make. But in today’s world, that’s simply not true.

Yes, in years past it was often necessary to design new products around the availability of off-the-shelf parts. Creating custom-fit hardware components was frequently too expensive and time-consuming.

For example, LCD displays came in standard sizes based on the desired resolution — and if you wanted something different, it took forever to order it. But now, you can get displays in custom resolutions and sizes almost as fast as purchasing the standard options.

Furthermore, thanks to 3D modeling software and digital manufacturing, it’s easier than ever for designers and engineers to create and produce custom components and prototypes at reasonable costs. Global supply chain networks offer an abundance of specialized parts to mix and match instead of relying on one-size-fits-all commodity components.

That means product developers are now free to conceptualize the ideal design first — and then source or create the right components to bring that vision to life.

2. Custom Tooling Should Be Avoided at All Costs

Along similar lines, designers and engineers used to automatically stay away from any design choices that required complex tooling. Designs with slides, lifters, and custom features were more difficult to manufacture and required special tools, molds, jigs, and other parts. The non-recurring expense of creating these items was often cost-prohibitive and hard to justify, as was the time it added onto a development schedule. So product designers opted for easier-to-make shapes, forms, and lines even if it meant settling for a suboptimal design.

But avoiding tooling is the equivalent of designing for your product’s lowest common denominator. And thankfully, it’s no longer necessary to compromise what’s best for your product for the sake of manufacturing ease. Today, tooling is far less complicated, expensive, and time intensive than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and sometimes it’s even viable to prototype with tooling.

So if your designers and engineers are still shying away from incorporating details like undercuts, lifts, slides, and curves to avoid the expense of tooling, it’s time to untie their hands once and for all.

3. Designing a Worthwhile Product Takes an Eternity

Contrary to popular thinking, product development timelines don’t always need to be long. In fact, in fast-moving markets, an overly cautious “measure twice and cut once” mentality might keep you from beating competitors to the finish line — or even from reaching the starting line.

The most innovative companies don’t think for a long time, work for a long time, and then build and release the product. They build, test, and adjust as nimbly as possible to get to market faster, using success drivers as their guideposts. This fail-fast, iterative approach prevents you from wasting months or years on internal debates and stakeholder conflicts.

The key to doing this effectively — and maintaining strict adherence to any testing and regulatory requirements —  is to collaborate with stakeholders and end users frequently. By engaging in rigorous testing and getting helpful, incisive feedback on concepts and prototypes every step of the way, you can meet the demands of your industry while still moving rapidly.

4. Designing for Usability Will Blow Your Product Development Budget and Timeline

Hiring skilled designers to refine product aesthetics, improve ergonomics, and create intuitive user interfaces was once viewed as an expensive luxury. But for today’s savvy consumers, these elements are a given. And if you don’t make usability a priority, the cost of an expensive market failure will far outweigh any savings you realize during the product development process.

Fortunately, access to good design no longer requires you to have an extravagant budget. And if you work with a product development firm that approaches designing for functionality and usability holistically, it doesn’t add anything to your timeline, either.

5. You Must Hire an In-House, In-Person, Multidisciplinary Product Development Team

Gone are the days when successful product development required corporations to house large, multidisciplinary teams under one roof. There’s simply no need for you to have every capability and specialty in-house. Nor do you need to be in the same city, state, or country as every member of your development team.

The realities of remote work — coupled with the challenges of recruiting and retaining talent — make a fully in-person, in-house model impractical for most companies. But with video chat, project management platforms, and virtual collaboration tools, you can tap into larger talent pools that allow you to execute ambitious product development roadmaps.

The most strategic approach to product development is to specialize in what you do best and outsource the rest. Often, that means working with an external product development firm that can augment your internal team’s abilities and help you push beyond the boundaries of your current thinking.

Hold On To Conventional Wisdoms That Foster Innovation — Let Go of the Rest

While some traditional maxims no longer serve product developers well, we don’t want to give the impression that “old-fashioned” automatically equates to uninspired. So in the spirit of helping you reach higher levels of success, here are two conventional wisdoms you should resurrect:

  • Every once in a while, visit users, vendors, and manufacturers in person. Seeing how users interact with your product in their environments — and observing the processes your vendors and manufacturers use when making your products — are vital for gaining breakthrough insights that result in a better design.
  • Nothing beats a quick napkin sketch when it comes to brainstorming, generating concepts, and overcoming creative roadblocks. CAD and virtual modeling are great, but they can be slow and clunky. Getting ideas onto the page quickly and easily is fundamental to producing innovative concepts that lead to superior solutions.

There’s no room for timid thinking or fear of failure in product development. But it can be hard to advocate for change and growth alone.

M3 knows how to avoid tired molds and operate in ways that lead to successful products. So when you’re ready to let go of conventional wisdom and embrace true innovation, get in touch. We’d love to help.



About the Author

Gray McCord – M3 CTO