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The Right Way to Kick Off an Engagement With a Product Development Firm

Engaging a product development firm requires a little more effort than attending a kickoff. Learn how to prepare internally before the partnership begins.

Casey Branson
Casey Branson

July 28 th 2022 | 10 minute read

Clients shouldn’t underestimate their role in setting their product development firm up for success. To see the success you are after, you can’t just hire a partner and expect them to magically intuit your business goals and historical landscape that brought you to kicking-off the project at-hand. At the same time, your product development firm should be able to clearly articulate what they need out of you, and guide you through the process.

Over the years, we’ve honed the process of extracting what we need from clients in order to deliver a superior product. So if you’re engaging with us, here are 6 things we will ask you  to bring to the table so we can hit the ground running.

(And if you’ve hired a firm who’s not asking for these elements? You’re leaving market opportunity on the table).

1. How Does Your New Product Advance Your Business Goals?

Product development is a tool for reaching a business objective. You’re not bringing a product to market simply for the fun of it. There are problems you’re trying to solve and people you’re solving them for. That’s why every product development engagement should begin with laying out your overarching business objectives.

Here are a few questions we ask our clients to provide feedback on prior to stepping into a “kickoff” meeting to help prime everyone’s thinking:

  • Where do you see your business going in one year, five years, ten years?
  • How would you describe the market opportunity you are pursuing? What need are you hoping to fulfill?
  • Who is the target customer? What information do you have around their needs? How are they currently solving the issues at hand?
  • What do your competitors do well? What do you do well? How might this new product offering set you apart?
  • What industry standards or regulatory requirements do we need to be mindful of for a successful launch?
  • Do you have definition around a potential value proposition yet? Is this something you need help defining?
  • What timeline goals should we be mindful of? Are there other milestones that haven’t been previously discussed?

While we like to see responses to  these questions prior to kickoff, don’t worry about perfecting your answers. This simply sets our team up to flesh things out more effectively with the broader group when the kick-off meeting happens. This is part of the value-add any product development firm should provide.

Free Download: Your Guide to Nailing the Product Development Kickoff

2. What is Your Long-term Product Roadmap?

One of the most important ways our clients can help us deliver the most value is to provide insight into their long-term plans. No matter how the current project fits into the game plan, sharing this information during the kickoff creates the foundation of a trusted partnership — one you count on to help you build a product roadmap for the future.

To that end, open your engagement by providing information about:

  • Where your industry is headed and what opportunities you see to position your product line in new ways over time
  • New and emerging technologies your product development firm might consider leveraging now or in the future
  • Specific plans for the product you’re launching — for example, if you’re planning to iterate on the design over several phases, it’s helpful to know what you want to accomplish in each phase and why

This kind of roadmapping helps us make design decisions that are forward-thinking and present-acting. We always want to meet your immediate product goals in ways that align with your long-term plans and are often even involved in creating or influencing our client’s product roadmaps. But we can’t do any of that unless we know your perspective on where you’re headed.

3. Who are the Right People and Stakeholders to Inform the Product Development Process?

One surefire way to slow down your product development process is to leave key internal stakeholders out of the conversation. The beginning of a project is the safest place to bring a broad group of stakeholders into the room. Getting this kickoff meeting on the right calendars, however, is often the most challenging part of Phase 1.

Think through who needs to weigh in on your product development initiative at the outset, who is ultimately responsible for making decisions, and who else  might bring an informed perspective to the process. It is likely a combination of executives from the C-suite, R&D, marketing, sales, manufacturing, etc.

Invite key stakeholders into the process from the beginning,  get key alignment meetings on their calendars early, and keep up momentum.

4. What Progress Have You Made? What Obstacles Have You Encountered?

Sometimes you are engaging a product development firm like M3 to start with a clean sheet of paper. Other times you might ask for help solving a design problem you’ve already begun working on internally. If the latter is true for you, our team has helped many clients move past challenging obstacles and innovate beyond their internal capabilities.

Sometimes clients are reluctant to share the internal work they have done to date and they ask us to start from scratch. Often times, this is due to a misguided effort to avoid biasing our efforts. They withhold valuable information and keep the results of their own trial and error to themselves. We do not endorse this philosophy.

Your engagement with a product development firm should be both effective and efficient. As such, we would like to hear your ideas, experiments, and findings during the kickoff process. If you are afraid of hindering “fresh thinking”–which is probably the main reason you are engaging with an outside firm to begin with–don’t be. We are professionals at being creative. So if concepts have already been tried or tested, tell us about it so we can focus our energies in other directions. Or, we just might find some nuggets of inspiration that set us on the right path more quickly.

5. How Can Your Core Competencies Supplement Your Product Development Firm?

Product development is not always about reinventing the wheel or innovating from scratch. Sure, sometimes that’s necessary. But we love to make creative use of the materials, resources, and tools already at our disposal whenever we can.

To do this, we need to understand the competencies and resources you bring to the project. For example, one of our clients has well established manufacturing capabilities. Specifically, they’re really good at designing and making motors. It would make no sense for us to design a motor for one of their products without assessing the many options they’ve already developed.

You might have large quantities of a certain material on hand or a team member who’s particularly adept at creative problem solving. Plan to share these resources as a way to speed up your product’s development, help the team reach a better final result, and bolster a competitive advantage.

6. Are You Open to Considering the Solutions Your Product Development Firm Generates?

Finally, enter your engagement with an open mind. You’ve partnered with a product development firm to help you arrive at a superior solution — not simply bring design concepts you already love to life.

Yes, we want to hear your ideas. We need to know your goals and long-term plans. But we’re not here to simply execute the concepts you’ve already developed. Your MRD/PRD is a meaningful guideline, not gospel.

Contribute to the solution space with all the background information, research, and industry knowledge you have at your disposal. Teach us what we need to know about your company and your market opportunity. And then? Trust the process. It’s our job to take your raw data, ideas, and plans and turn them into a product that will deliver the ROI you’re after.

Ready to kick your project off the right way? Just reach out. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know.

Casey Branson
About the Author

Casey Branson – Business Development

“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
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