A brief internet search will confidently tell you that there are anywhere between 4 and 8 stages of the ‘ideal product development process’. But however your business chooses to break down the different phases that lead from ideation to launch, there is a real need to develop a systematic approach to product development.
Formalised phase gating creates a structured process which provides direction and safeguards against waste
These kinds of product development stages are often formalised as ‘gated’ phases which allow for regular stop/go reviews, monitoring progress and comparing requirements against the deliverables of each sprint. The implementation of these ‘gates’ throughout a process are intended to ensure that timetables are met, budgets not exceeded and products remain viable propositions in a changing marketplace.
Changeable market conditions demand robust, yet responsive working methods
In these testing times the effectiveness of a company’s New Product Development (NPD) process – whether it’s intended to deliver tangible, physical product or a virtual offering such as software – depends more than ever on finding a standardised approach, like the above, that can be readily repeated and optimised.
In some sectors the current Coronavirus crisis has seen an uptick in business activity while others are facing more straitened times. In pharma and medtech there have been widely reported surges in enquiries and sales with new players from non-medical sectors (Dyson, McClaren) stepping in rapidly to build urgently required products for regulated industry.
Other high tech companies are also rapidly developing solutions to meet the novel demands of a newly disrupted world. Speed of response is proving essential but smaller teams, physical separation and squeezed budgets are increasing the risk of mistakes being made and procedures not being followed effectively.
In both cases having a set structure of project phases that must be gone through to take a product from conception, through to design and launch, can help systemise your approach in order to achieve greater speed and efficiency in delivery. It can also ensure a greater level of consistency in the quality of end products you are creating because you are continually repeating and refining the same processes.
Document Management Systems help create repeatable processes
We would argue that a good document management system is pivotal to setting up these kind of repeatable and consistent, phase gated development processes. In these operations, each phase is concluded in the approval of a set of predefined and required documentation which then triggers the next stage of development to begin. A good document management system lets you set up templates of documents that you will need to digitally complete during each stage; controlling and managing their distribution, completion and publication as your project progresses.
Many of the high tech businesses that we work with adopt an NPD approach that breaks down into seven stages.
Are these the ideal seven stages of new product development?
This is the concept and ideation stage during which a product’s functional and performance requirements can be defined along with buyer personas or ‘the voice of the customer’. Customer requirements and innovative functionality design ideas are floated and explored freely to find compelling potential solutions that answer an identified market need.
2. Feasibility study and design planning
The feasibility phase gives management an opportunity to evaluate a project’s potential success, reviewing and refining the business case from various angles. During this phase, the project team reviews product design concepts. They then select the design that best fulfils the previously defined user requirements. Now, the detailed, exhaustive project requirements are assembled that will guide the design and development phase.
3. Design and development
In this phase, formal engineering specifications are created. Verification and validation plans are developed for the future. These are the final quality checks that will systematically determine that all agreed deliverables are present and working in the end product. The product is then developed against the designs, with regular checks made throughout the process to assess and mitigate the risk of its failure for the end-user and the project itself.
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4. Testing & verification
Comprehensive testing of the final product takes place to evaluate the robustness of the design and its ability to meet customer and performance requirements. Verification takes place against the design requirements identified in stage 2.
5. Validation & collateral production
Validation takes place against the customer needs that have been identified at the ideation stage. Collateral is finalised and prepared to support the manufacture and launch phase.
Plans, specs and other relevant documentation are transferred to manufacture for production, or software products and updates are released to customers. Marketing and launch plans are finalised and activated. Software products are released to customers electronically as updates or downloads.
The new product becomes part of the company’s portfolio. Ongoing product management ensures the product is subject to continuous upgrades and improvement. CAPA processes are in place to feed into these actions.
There’s no ‘ideal’ number of NPD phase gates
As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the truth is the ‘ideal’ number of steps or phases of a NPD process is not set in stone. Some product developers use 4 or 5, while others break theirs down into 6, 7 or 8. In regulated industries such as med tech, you may need to prove you have ‘controlled’ the design process in very specific ways not required in other sectors. You will obviously need to document and manage more phases of delivery for a medical ventilator than a domestic coffee mug, because the consequences of the risk of product failure are more extreme.
But as the current Covid-19 Crisis has proved, opportunities and challenges in high tech product development can change dramatically in a very short space of time. Adopting systems that help you define and impose a phase gated development process can give you a robust and repeatable template for future success. But you also need the flexibility to change and adapt these processes when new commercial conditions or possibilities arise.