Two-stage product development


by ddr-consulting.com, 10/09/2012. All rights reserved.

Preamble

There are many different product development strategies available to choose from, maybe as many as products. The following paper will introduce an addition to these strategies, it’s called Two-Stage Product Development (TSPD) method. It can be a winning strategy when the following conditions are true:

  1. The actual product type is new for the product development team, so they are not fully aware of all possible issues and available optimal solutions.
  2. Product development team is resource constrained (time, engineering, money).
  3. The product does not have direct competition, at least the product has feature(s) that is very desirable for its customers and available products can not fulfill them.

If the above conditions are true, the following process would offer a quick time to market solution with the added benefit of securing long term customer satisfaction.

It is very important: only the two stages together will deliver good results!

There is going to be strong forces to cut short the described process, to skip stage 2. Specially when good sales result shows success (at least short term) after stage 1 is completed but that would mean losing customers long term, over-stressing support and engineering teams, as they are going to be busy firefighting stage 1 “product” issues instead of working on stage 2 development.

Stage 1: Prototype only product

The key to this process is to realize early on, when conditions a) and b) are true, it is very unlikely the team will deliver a mature product initially. By putting this fact on the table and if condition c) is also true, developing a quick solution, that is more of a prototype and not a product, is the right way to go for the following reasons:

  • the product team can spend less time at product definition stage as it would be incomplete anyway; see condition a)
  • customers will “forgive” the lack of product maturity because of condition c) (at least for a short time)
  • the product can be given into customers hands and gather valuable feedbacks much earlier
  • as “product” time to mark is short, development costs can be significantly reduced

So what are the key components of stage 1 phase:

  • Product team still has to make best effort to create a good requirements definition before starting the development but as we know time is critical and we need to learn from stage 1 before full requirements can be gathered, it has to be short and concentrate only on the most important aspect of the product.
  • Try to use off-the-shelf parts as much as possible even if it is not the most cost effective solution.
  • Product development cost optimization is not a primary goal, delivery time is.
  • Try to make best effort to create a quality product but it is not high priority.
  • Make sure the development team clearly writes down all important topics they did not have time to explore at this stage. Those notes will be very important inputs for stage 2.
  • Do quick/minimal testing to make sure the product is usable, do not have basic bugs in it.
  • When the product gets delivered to customers make sure you collect as much information as possible about how it can be improved and what are the missing features and their priorities.

Stage 2: Clean sheet redesign

Now as the time critical first stage is over and the product development team has learnt important lessons, it is time to reset the project and start it over from scratch.
Yes it is not easy to break away from something that is already working but we all know the foundation of the stage 1 design was not very strong and as we are aiming for a long time success it is best to “bite the bullet” now than to carry all those suboptimal solutions into the future.
So here comes the clean sheet.
Gather key players from the development team, lock them into a nice room and give them the task of putting together a stable long term foundation of the product. Equipped with the notes from stage 1, plus all the feedbacks from the customers they should have enough information to create sounding requirements and design principle document.

From this point the process is just a “normal” product development. Depending on the product and your organization select the best one but make sure this time there should be no corner cutting as short term gains will cost a lot in the future.

Epilog

Maybe to see the short term benefits of TSPD is the easiest. Have a “product” early on the market is a good strategy by itself. Usually the issue is when a team does not realize its limitations early enough and not plan accordingly, they can get locked into a loop of trying to fix bugs in the first version of the product so they do not have the time and resources left to “finish” the design, eventually losing its customers to competition.

During the 20+ years of product development we have seen examples where products were developed following the stage 1 or stage 2 model but combining the two has great potential with its own challenges. Like it can establish your product on the market for long years to come. So it is worth the extra effort and we are here to help.

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