10 Ways to Effectively Plan for Innovation and Product Development

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Innovation and product development are two of the most important aspects of any business. Here's how to plan for it.

Innovation and product development are two of the most important aspects of any business. Here's how to plan for it.Innovation and product development are two of the most important aspects of any business. Here's how to plan for it.

Innovation and product development are two of the most important aspects of any business. Without new products or innovations, businesses die off, and with poor product development, businesses can quickly fall behind their competitors. In order to be successful, then, it's important for businesses to have a well-thought-out plan for innovation and product development. Here are ten tips to help you do just that.

1. How much project planning is needed?

Depending on whether a project is considered small, medium, or large, then it may need limited, or quite in-depth planning and documentation before it can begin. If we look at the example of a medium to large project, it is likely that the project will need a documented business case, project brief, project product description and an overall project plan. If the project falls to the larger side of the medium to large project categorisation, then it probably makes sense to also document an approach to benefits, risks, quality, and communication.

2. Do you need business work?

This may include a wide range of work, such as market analysis or competitor investigation etc. This business work may help you understand the target sell price of your product, or to help you establish a target manufacturing cost. There may also be a return on investment analysis or ROI. All the former and more can help establish early on, whether the product and project are in fact viable, and acts to double-check the early business case and make sure that the project isn't a waste of time.

3 Do you need regulatory work?

Some products are for markets that involve substantial regulatory planning, and if this is not done early on, it can be incredibly detrimental to the project and product overall. For example, if a product is to be released into the healthcare market, specifically a project focused on a new product for use in the human body, for example, a pacemaker or smart brace, then significant regulatory work is warranted. This regulatory work may begin with a basic review of documentation and identification of applicable requirements etc. This early investigation of guidelines and regulatory alignment may then become a full regulatory assessment, and the preparation of a regulatory assessment report is likely needed. This, as well as the earlier business work, help form a solid foundation for a project and can be double-checked against the earlier business case to make sure that the project and product itself are worth pursuing.

4 Is further research work needed?

It may be the case that the former two stages provide lots of useful information that is not only wanted but also needed but that there is still a gap in insight and further research work is needed. This research work could be via primary and or secondary research. For example, primary research may be via screen surveys or interviews etc. The secondary research may be via databases, internet searches and current academic thought on any given subject. Both types of primary and secondary research can then be further extrapolated via quantitative and qualitative analysis. Useful industry tools such as SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PESTLE analysis (political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental) can also be very useful. Once it is understood that it makes sense to pursue the project from the earlier stages, and steps have been taken to move toward the end destination, a GAP report may be undertaken. This GAP report potentially lays out where the project has been, where the project is and where it wants to go. This is then collated to understand the gap in the product journey and how it needs to be best filled.

5 Is design work needed?

Many projects often involve some level of design work, whether that is a simple sketch of a product, or much more complicated CAD designs and various design iterations. There may be the need for computer-aided design and step files etc which allow for system schematics, bills of material and ultimately, the project and product to progress to a minimum viable product. To get to the point where something is the minimum viable product, there may need to be finite element analysis (FEA), to help understand the different tolerances of the proposed product.

6 Is legal work needed?

Once a project and product are at the point where there is not only intellectual property but potentially even physical property that may be protected, it is worth considering whether a UK patent or any protection is worth undertaking. It is not always possible to protect intellectual property or physical property, but it is worth checking at a relatively early stage whether this may or may not be possible.

7 Is procurement work needed?

Procurement work may start with establishing a shortlist of potential component manufacturers and suppliers. It may be helpful to understand component supply chains and begin to compile OEM documentation. Procurement may be in-depth and involve a significant portion of the project and product, or it may be minimal, either way, it is worth considering what is needed as soon as possible.

8 Is prototyping work needed?

Once a technical review of designs has been undertaken then prototyping can potentially begin. Physical components can be obtained and inspected via the earlier procurement stage. These components can then be assembled to form various iterations of a prototype. Once there is a suitable prototype, a testing procedure can be created in-house, or developed prototypes can be sent out for testing externally. With the newly gained results from the product testing, the current prototype can be compared to market product and research data, to see where the project and product sit in the broader marketplace. There may be amendments needed and the MVP spec may need adjustment and design changes.

9 Is manufacturability work needed?

Now the project can determine potential methods of manufacturing for the newly developed product. The designs can be put in place so that there is a design for manufacturing and all structural calculations/tolerance analysis has been finalised. At this point, a detailed bill of materials (BOM), can now be created. The project will then have a good understanding of all costs involved in the manufacturing of the new product. This new cost data can be compared to current market data and any research, to see once again where the product sits in the broader marketplace, and whether the project has met its original business case.

10 Is closing a project procedure needed?

If the project has been as substantial as previously described then it is likely that a planned project closure process is needed. If the project has gone badly and for some reason needs to be prematurely closed, then a premature closure process should be undertaken. During this process, there needs to be a handing over of products and a follow-on action recommendation. It is also wise to compile a lessons log and an end project report. These former documents allow for an evaluation of the project, and once this has been undertaken then project closure can be recommended.

So, those are ten things that can be done to help effectively plan for innovation and product development. Those steps can be undertaken before, during and after any given project and the product is created. Not all projects will need in-depth planning, managing and follow-up, but they will likely need some aspects of the former to a greater or lesser degree. Even the simplest projects can be made simpler by some basic planning, and then will be more effectively and efficiently implemented.

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