Developing Innovative Products

Phase 0: Feasibility Analysis

The goal of this phase is to identify existing technology to achieve the intended high-level function. If technology can be purchased as opposed to developed, the scope of subsequent development phases changes.

Simply put, product development companies research and assess the probability that the current technology can be used to reach the intended functionality of the product. By doing this, the development efforts are reduced, which in financial terms represent a great reduction in development costs.

Moreover, if the technology is not yet available, then the assessment can result in longer development cycles and the focus moves into creating the new technology (if humanly possible) that can accomplish the functionality of the product.

This is an important part of the in any product development process because it is safer and financially responsible to understand the constraints that a product can have prior to starting a full development cycle. A feasibility study can cost between 7 -15 thousand dollars. It might be sound very expensive for some, but when it is much better than investing $100k+ to end up with a product that no manufacturer is able to produce.

Phase 1: Specification or PRD (Product Requirements Document) development

If your product is feasible, congratulations! you are a step closer to creating your product and you can move into documenting what is going to go into the product itself, aka the guts (product objective, core components, intended end-user, aesthetics, User interphase, etc).

In this phase, product design and engineering focus on documenting the critical functionality, constraints, and inputs to the design. This is a critical step to keep development focused, identify the high-risk areas, and ensure that scope creep is minimized later.

This document will help you communicate the key features of your product and how they are supposed to work to all members of your team. This will ensure that you keep everyone involved on the same page.

Without one, you are more likely to stay off track and miss deadlines. think about the PRD as your project management breakdown structure (BDS)

Phase 2: Concept Development

Initial shape development work identifies options for form, as well as possible approaches for complex mechanical engineering challenges. Initial flowchart of software/firmware also happens here, as well as concept design level user interface work. Aesthetic prototypes may be included in this Phase, if appropriate. Prototype in this phase will not typically be functional.

Phase 3: Initial Design and Engineering

Based on decisions made at the end a concept development phase, actual product design and engineering programming can start. In this phase, Level 1 prototypes are often used to test approaches to technical challenges.

Phase 4: Design Iteration

This part of the project is where we focus on rapid cycles, quickly developing designs and prototypes, as the depth of engineering work increases. This phase can include Level 2 and 3 prototypes, typically through multiple cycles. Some products require as many as twenty prototype cycles in this phase. Others may only require two or three.

Phase 5: Design Finalization / Optimization

With all assumptions tested and validated, the design can be finalized and then optimized for production. To properly optimize for production, product design and engineering teams take into account the target production volumes, as well as the requirements of the manufacturer. Regulatory work may start in this phase.

Phase 6: Manufacturing Start and Support

Before production starts, tooling is produced, and initial units are inspected. Final changes are negotiated with the manufacturer. Regulatory work also should wrap up in this phase.

It’s Time for Drone Delivery

The other day, I was sitting with a group of college students at Starbucks, we were discussing startup businesses. They were brainstorming of what type of business to start. A guy in an ice cream truck pulled up and the driver ran into Starbucks. I joked as he ran by, “don’t you sell any coffee flavored ice cream?” Everyone laughed as did the driver as he briskly rushed the door open and ran in. “Maybe he is just using the restroom?” We all laughed again, and then saw him get pick-up his pre-made coffee he must have ordered with his smart phone Starbuck’s app.

As he was leaving he told us while we sat at the outdoor table that he did sell coffee flavored ice cream. I asked if I could buy a round of ice cream for the group. He apologized and said; “Today, I am delivering Amazon Packages, as a delivery contractor, my brother is using all his vans, so I am helping out, we are really busy – Prime Day Delivery!” Everyone was intrigued, and he broke into a stride saying; “Chow” as he left, and he turned on the music for us as he drove away. What a cool small business owner. We all laughed again, he was so busy he just needed more caffeine to finish his hectic day.

Our group then went back to brainstorming on what a smart business might be for a startup. I laughed and said: “Hey, you have to be observant, we just saw a guy in a friggin’ ice cream truck delivering online packages because they didn’t have enough vans or people to help, that means there is demand in the market not being met.” I started asking them a series of questions:

- How could you deliver more efficiently?
- How could you streamline the delivery business model?
- How could you revolutionize the package delivery business?
- How could you find other underutilized vehicles and people to deliver?

And, then I reminded them that Amazon now has a market value of $1 Trillion. I asked them about other observations they just had?

- Why can’t that ice cream man deliver Starbucks?
- Why not start a drone business to deliver Starbucks and Amazon?
- Why not figure out how to solve those delivery challenges with software, apps, drones, combination?

I reiterated; “Let’s face it, you know there is unfulfilled demand in the marketplace for new delivery companies and better options when you see an Ice Cream truck delivering online packages as an Amazon Contractor.”

I explained that you have to observe everything and think. I explained that we can’t be too busy here brainstorming that we stop observing, the clues are everywhere, right in front of our noses. If you are at a loss for ideas, look around, read the newspaper, listen to people complain, think about things that would make problems go away for people – then try to come up with solutions for these challenges – solutions that you can make a profit in providing.