New Product Introduction (NPI): What is your target?

Businesses commit high-valued resources (people, cash and windows of opportunity) to develop and introduce new products to market. Unfortunately, in many cases, product development is well along before attention is applied to whether the NPI process is appropriate for the product and the targeted market.
This is particularly true of products where the product definition was developed without broad based customer involvement known as the “Voice of the Customer (VOC)”.

By not engaging sufficient customer or “market” input the NPI process is starved of critical information that is needed to determine what “acceptance” criteria the product will have to satisfy to be a success. This can be a critical problem for a company that has traditionally designed and developed products to an acceptance criteria defined by a narrow (often just one) set of customers and then decide to convert an existing product or technology for use in a larger market. The normal NPI process used for this new endeavor will fall short of what is needed. It needs to reflect the condition that many customers will determine the success of the product and not just a few or one.

In every case the NPI needs to recognize the unique constraints of the market (customer community) that the product is intended to serve – one customer or many. An NPI process designed to successfully guide development of a product to meet or exceed customer acceptance criteria is radically different than one that will need to measured by market acceptance.

The precision of the effort to determine market acceptance into a design criteria by an anonymous customer is a critical and challenging task. The customers voice has to be represented (and defended) in the same way that a detail specification in a customer acceptance criteria is adhered to in order to deliver the product. Internal resistance to accepting external acceptance factors needs to be dealt with effectively or the success of the product will be compromised.

An extreme example of this problem involved a team of extremely talented engineers developing a software tool for a market unfamiliar to anyone on the development team. Developing the product was looked upon as solving a difficult problem. When the product was released the response was far short of what was expected.

I was asked to look into why the product was struggling and discovered that the product specifications were developed without any involvement from any users. I scheduled several meetings with “typical” customers and the feedback was valuable – but too late to save the product. The product did do what it was designed to do, it solved a critical problem, it was recognized by customers as a technical achievement but it did not integrate with the work flow of the user so that they could view it as an inline productive tool. The end result was that the product was withdrawn and the team dissolved.

Could this have been averted? Yes! Surveying customers ahead of time to determine how they would use such a tool would have revealed the critical work flow integration requirement that may have resulted in a successful product or possibly a decision to go in a different direction.

The moral to the story. Know your target audience. Make sure they are represented throughout the NPI process. Invest in a sold NPI process or spend more time (and money) later trying to get the product right, in front of the customer, once it is in the market.

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