As a trained brain innovator for now over 50 Product Development Process innovation brainstorming sessions in the past 15 years, I am amazed at the fumbling that goes on AFTER the session is over.
Most innovation sessions end up with hundreds of potentially great product ideas, which are then filtered down to maybe a dozen really good, viable new product concepts.
The best, of course, is based on the application of new technological solutions to the problems at hand.
Immediately after an innovation session is over, most marketing groups run out to test the viability of the concept in the “marketplace” via VoC (Voice Of the Customer) research or focus groups before they even know if the product is technically feasible:
They try to get a feel for whether the market will buy it and under what conditions. I have seen way too many Product Development Process come back from focus groups “good to go”, beloved by the customer, all featured up before they have been thought through from a technical and engineering standpoint.
The marketing group comes back to engineering with a big smile on their face and a big “thumbs up” saying “OK, the customers love it, now go build it.”If engineers know anything, it is that almost anything can be built, but at what price and what misery.
So the marketers and builders of “business cases” ignore at least four of the six significant areas of feasibility in this rush to Market Feasibility testing: They miss Technical (Engineering) Feasibility, obviously; Manufacturing Feasibility -if you don’t know the technology and the engineering,
how the heck do you know if and how you can build it; Pricing (part of the Financial Feasibility), like duh, how much can I charge for it or more appropriately, how much will the customer pay for it; and Patent Feasibility- if you don’t know the technology how can you know if you can protect it or,
more importantly, are you infringing on someone else patent. (That only leaves Distribution Feasibility- which means do you have channels in which to get this thing to market untouched.)
The most logical approach, an approach that is from my standpoint cheaper, both in time to market and sunk cost, in the long run, is to look into the technical feasibility of the product BEFORE you start showing wild ass NPD concepts to the market.
If you try to build something to test its technological feasibility, to prove that from an engineering standpoint you can build it, you will by default come up with: 1) A notion of how and if you can manufacture it. 2) You will also get a guess at what it might cost along with what the feature set will cost; 3)
You will no doubt go to the patent archives to look for ways of solving the problem since one of the best ways to solve a problem is to find out how people have solved it in the past. So by going straight to the technological feasibility exercise, you will reduce uncertainty (which is what this feasibility thing is all about) much quicker than if you simply go to the market research first.
A lesson in point: after a brainstorming session a customer brought a focus group “annotated” product to us and said, “OK, now they want this thing and we want to use this motor on it, the thing is absolutely feasible with this motor at this cost!”
We looked at it for a while and snickered back: “It’s really good that you could do this with this motor, but what about the transmission of the power into the device?” They had based their belief about the feasibility of the product on the cost of the motor, without looking at how they were going to get the power into the device”.
If they had gone down a path to see if the thing could be engineered and prototyped, to look at its true technical feasibility, they would have more seriously understood where the uncertainty, the risk, was really.
Sometimes, we base our belief about the feasibility of a Product Development Process Procession the LEAST important part. If companies would do a little technical feasibility homework BEFORE they take it out for a drive at the church of consumer evaluation, they would save themselves big heartache latter. So remember, GET PHYSICAL FAST!