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Five Easy Pieces for Product Developers

1. Make sure that you are working on the right things

  • Gain deep understanding of customer needs
  • How can you save your customer time and/or money more effectively than your competitors
  • Visit your customers, visit competitors customers, watch customers using your products...
  • Don't be afraid to keep probing... Keep asking "Why?"
  • Keep an eye out for potential lead users...that nutjob in Waltham may be on to something.
  • Use the right "research" tool for the customer insight that you are seeking
  • Make more informed design trade-off decisions

2. Optimize the product development process for speed and value

  • One size doesn't fit all -- match the process to the project
  • Look for the backlogs in your development process
  • Are there any proverbial "black holes" that repeatedly delay projects because they are overburdened and understaffed
  • Look for ways to speed up feedback from important stakeholders (use quick and dirty prototypes to communicate ideas)
  • Conduct tests early, especially on the higher risk elements of the design/product (capture results for future use)
  • Don't understaff development projects - if a project is worth doing give it sufficient resources
  • If you really want speed, co-locate development teams if at all possible -- even bring in suppliers
  • Build in a predictable patterns and pacing for reviews, check-ins and problem solving

3. Keep an Open Mind

  • Recognize that you might be able to find solutions to R&D challenges from outside your organization
  • Similar technical challenges may have been solved in another industry (this a great win/win scenario)
  • There are numerous technologies developed by universities, start-ups, individuals as well as the government that are looking for commercial application
  • Understand that finding solutions outside your organization takes time and effort
  • Don't let "Not Invented Here" syndrome squash efforts to look outside when it makes good business sense

4. Put All the Pieces Together

  • Understand the complex set of interdependent activities required to deliver the product/service to your customer 
  • Map the bi-directional interfaces (both internal/external) that occur in order for a customer to purchase your product (count the transactions, measure how long the transactions take). Look for signs of systemic stress (long delays, firefighting, "undocumented" work arounds).
  • Look at the information transfers (how many times is data passed back and forth)
  • Design "robust" interfaces with sufficient tolerance for variability

5. Align metrics across functions to drive the desired business outcome

  • Seek metrics that optimize performance across the total business system (avoid sub-optimization)
  • Make sure that the metrics are visible
  • Make sure that metrics inform/empower good overall decision-making