In the New Product Development (NPD) process, the prototyping stage is where the idea starts to become a reality. This is the point where engineering and design are tested, market studies are undertaken and the company's ability to fully support the product is assessed.
Typically, the prototyping stage is divided into three steps;
The first two phases focus primarily on assessing the product’s viability, with the third phase concentrating on the viability of the plan and the development of a working prototype. Typically it will take many attempts to produce a prototype that satisfies all the research inputs.
In the compromises that inevitably take place to achieve a solution it is important that the needs of the customer are always kept in focus. Products that lose or dilute the fulfilment of customer need are almost certain not to achieve full commercial potential.
The purpose of this three stage process is to enable companies to test and refine their product idea to ensure it is aligned with market needs, uses the best materials and design and provides the documentation for financing, patent development and regulatory compliance.
As part of the whole NPD process many companies will establish a gated decision making process. This ensures that each phase is assessed by the appropriate key personnel and is utilised to mitigate risk and validate the findings during each step of the prototyping path.
It also allows regular evaluations of costs incurred and forthcoming plus the timescales continue to fit the window of opportunity for product launch. If either of these measurements goes negative, the project must be stopped.
NPD is a big, but necessary, commitment for any business. The talent and ability of the personnel to drive the project through all the checks and balances helps ensure an idea reaches a successful conclusion.
People are not only responsible for the execution of the engineering, design and market assessment, but also for the strategic decisions to adjust or, in some cases, put the entire project on hold.
Testing a working prototype in the marketplace is only one side of the process. The other side of a product’s success will depend on the ability of the company to deliver and execute the plan. Therefore, one aspect of this phase is ensuring that the best resources and talent are available to deliver a high quality, profitable product to the market.
Having the right skills and experience is as significant a factor as having the product ideas and processes in place to bring a project to a successful outcome. An assessment of resources may conclude that the company does not have the necessary skills in-house to drive the project.
If that is the case businesses need to determine if these skills should be recruited for or if they should be outsourced. Outsourcing offers flexibility in providing access to skills that are not available internally or are only required for the duration of a specific project, thereby avoiding expensive fixed overheads. It can also offer access to fresh insights and technologies that could provide an additional advantage to a product development.
The prototyping, testing and validation stage in an NPD project is crucial in validating that the company's investment in time and money is justified.
The next stage of production requires extensive expenditure, so not undertaking an exhaustive analysis of this prototype stage only increases the risk of failure. The end of this phase is a critical point in the NPD cycle when the difficult decision to progress or pause is taken.
Therefore, undertaking and developing the best evaluations possible will help reduce risk and ensure the team is making informed decisions.
The reality is that even the most meticulous prototyping process will not guarantee success. Adopting a formal NPD process during this phase will permit a more streamlined execution of the assessment of a working prototype and will provide a business with the necessary foundation to successfully produce, market and distribute their new product. It also allows a number of projects to be successfully managed concurrently.
Our next post in this NPD series looks at going from product development to product launch. Visit us again as we progress through the remaining steps of this vital activity.
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