Go Slow to Go Fast: How to Speed up New Product Development

Go Slow to Go Fast: How to Speed up New Product Development


Taking time to understand customer needs reduces product development time.

Ever heard the joke about the optimistic pilot? Before the days of computers, when pilots had to use more elementary tools, a particularly optimistic pilot was flying from New York to Bermuda. To his horror, he noticed that the compass needle seemed to be stuck. Being conscientious, he felt that he should alert his passengers.

“Good afternoon. I’m afraid I must inform you that we’re having some instrument problems and we’ve been flying in the wrong direction for a bit. We’re not sure for how long and so – we are not sure where we are. But the good news is that I’ve had the throttle down the whole trip, and so we’re making great time.”

Doing our VoC work is the equivalent of checking our maps, our compass, and the GPS to know where we are, to plot our destination, and to make sure that our team is aligned. It would be a poor decision for a pilot to ignore his instruments, and it would be a poor decision to just begin NPD without preparing first.

The reason that executives insist that “they don’t have time to do market research” prior to development is that they want their new products to launch faster. But this is short sighted. If they will take the time to execute VoC properly, they will in fact be able to launch their products faster than otherwise.

Why do we think we don’t have the time?

Because we mistake action for progress. When project teams are building prototypes, this feels like “real work.” It feels like action. But doing research doesn’t feel like real work. It feels like waiting for the real work. This is of course, incorrect.

Executives are familiar with taking action that involves outputs, like business results. They don’t think of the relationship between the inputs and the outputs. Also, market research sounds theoretical, not practical…because executives don’t often have this background.

How does development without VoC slow down development?

Without VoC, every decision is difficult. It is difficult because there is no agreement on anything. Feature choices, performance levels, material options? All difficult. So many decisions to make. Should we use aluminum or titanium? Should we use polyester or cuben fiber? Should we make this app work on all iPad models? Are we building a product to hit the general market needs or just a niche? Without customer insights, there is no market strategy. No product strategy. No roadmap. Not one worth much anyway. For if we create a strategy in a vacuum, it will likely be inaccurate and even worse, our team (and company) will not be aligned around it. Development slows down due to a lack of confidence with many things: what needs should be addressed, what performance level should be delivered, etc.

Even when decisions are made, without customer insights, they will be revisited. Maybe many times. Perhaps changed or even remade. With low certainty, the team flounders. It takes time to gather data and remake a decision. It takes even more time to unmake a decision and change course.

Without good customer insights, engineers will also feel more empowered to assert their own vision of what the product should be. When the subcomponents are brought together, it’s a Rube Goldberg device that no customer would touch.  Time keeps slipping into the future with each event. And it all could have been addressed with an upfront understanding of customer needs.

How does a lack of VoC affect team productivity?

Without data-driven customer insights, team members will argue much more – again – due to the uncertainty. They take turns with statements may sound like, “If I was a user, I would want…” And it becomes a contest of the wills. One person’s opinion versus another where the most dominant personality wins. Not only does this damage team morale, but the clock is ticking while these conversations persist.

And it’s not just development productivity. With a good set of customer needs, our marketing communications and tactical marketing folks will also be faster in their work. They will have direction for their activities. They’ll know everything from which benefits to tout all the way down to the details of what demos to create.

Time? We should acknowledge the opportunity cost of building the wrong product

This will be the biggest time loss of all. We spend months, perhaps years, developing a new product. We spend time in meetings. Time with suppliers. We solve problems. We make our launch preparations and see them through – from photoshoots to website updates.

Then, the product? Uh oh. It’s a loser.

All that time is gone. Time is one thing that once lost, it’s gone forever. All we can do is try better the next time.

Do the VoC – and while we might appear to be slow now, but we’ll ultimately be more accurate and faster as well.

From the classic work by Bob King, Better Designs in Half the Time: “A relatively short time is spent defining the product. A relatively long time is spent designing the product and a surprisingly long time is often spent redesigning the product.”

Adding a bit of time for customer insights will help us arrive at destination faster. And even better, we’ll get there with a product that customers will love.

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