How to know if you should start developing that great idea
Given the times we are in, we see product launches everywhere and anytime. This ranges from small to big size firms, from private to public companies, from nonprofit to for-profit businesses.
This is not weird once you realize that a higher percentage of revenue and profits comes from new products. Subsequently, high performing businesses are also better at product development.
In today’s fast-moving markets however, new products are more likely to fail than to succeed. This raises several questions:
- What can you do to increase (the chance of) new product success?
- Is there a way to predict new product success before developing or launching a product?
This article discusses the phase of your project you should pay the most attention to save the most time at the lowest cost and increase your new product’s success.
Specifically, this article discusses the importance of having a Front-End, the advantages of it, and the activities it should contain. In other words, it illustrates which activities you should do before developing anything in order to save the most time at the lowest cost and increase your new product’s success.
Why you must have a Front-End
A successful Front-End enables you to achieve two important results:
- You can develop more successful products
- You can stop unsuccessful projects earlier
Thus, investing in activities before developing anything has two important advantages.
- It results in huge cost savings
- It increases your business effectiveness
By enabling you to detect winning and failing projects even before you start to develop anything.
Meet the Front-End AKA the activities before development
The Front-End, is the project phase before the actual product development phase.
It is the work you have finished before the product enters the development phase of the project. It shapes the work that occurs in the following phases of the project, and is therefore very important.
The activities that are conducted in the Front-End are:
- Technical feasibility
- Early market research
- Financial viability analysis
- Business model development
- Business plan preparation
Saving and earning more money
At the beginning of a project, most information is tentative and the ambiguity is quite high. The ambiguity will reduce by investing more time in the activities mentioned above.
However, the cost of correcting mistakes increases geometrically in time, see Figure 1. This means that the cost of correcting a mistake is much higher when it is discovered later in time.
A simple example: suppose you start with a market research, and it reveals that a competitor is already doing what you are planning to do. Compare the damage of finding this out when: 1) you got the idea, with 2) right before you launch the product.
Also, once the right target market and technology are chosen. All your energy can be focused to address the needs of that market in the best possible way. Your business will be successful once it is addressing the needs of the target market better than its competitor(s).
Therefore, the performance of the final product in the marketplace will increase when the market and technical ambiguity are reduced (on time).
In short, don’t wait too long before you start with the Front-End activities.
Note that you should not stay forever in the Front-End by trying to remove all the ambiguity. Almost all the activities can start before development, but you don’t need to finish all the activities before development.
Of everything that you can do to improve your new product’s performance, giving attention to the Front-End will save you the most time at the lowest cost.
Performance can be measured in many ways, including
- Overall marketplace success
- Market penetration
- Meeting of technical and financial goals
Having a strategy, a successful Front-End (activities before development), and a strong new product development process are all linked to
- new product development success,
- performance goals,
- time to market,
- market penetration, and
- meeting financial goals.
In this article, new product development success is measured in terms of the number of product introductions and the percentage of ideas judged to be market successes.
Front-End success, the success of the activities before development, is measured in terms of the number of successful Front-End project introductions to the development phase.
Key activities before development
According to Cooper and Kleindschmidt, the following activities are key for developing and refining ideas before the development process starts:
- Idea generation
- Information collection
- (Limited) funding
But how many resources should you invest? Which and how much information should you gather?
Increase new product performance
You can see the activities before the development phase as idea preparation activities. The idea is namely being prepared for the development phase. The degree of preparation impacts the success of the development phase.
In others words, ideas that are better prepared for the development phase should do better in the development phase, and ultimately in the marketplace.
This does not mean that you should stay in the idea preparation phase. Strive for excellence, but not for perfection.
Activities that affect Front-End success
Markham (2012) found the following activities to be of high importance in the Front-End, the activities before development:
- Demonstrating technical potential
- Developing the product concept
- Demonstrating market potential
The impact of the aforementioned activities:
- Demonstrating the technology and developing the product concepts. This is important to both Front-End success and to moving projects from the Front-End into the development process.
- Demonstrating market potential is related to front-end success but not to projects’ moving into the development process.
Increase the Front-End performance
The performance of the Front-End, activities before development, is impacted by certain activities that take place. These activities are:
- Front-end process, that is a process to manage the activities before development
- Availability of resources
- Amount of work done
- Order of activity
- Being selective
- Monitoring and controlling
The following elaborates the activities above:
Formalize the Front-End
Recent research suggests a higher degree of formality in the Front-End leads to more successful new products. Cooper also found that a new product development process reduces ambiguity and increases performance
The advantage of a formalized process is the ability to control resource allocation. This allows to match tasks and appropriate skills throughout the duration of the project, beginning at the front end.
Allocate sufficient resources
An idea that does not get the proper attention, will not be successful. An idea can’t be successful, just like a plant can’t grow without the proper attention. This means concretely, the lack of:
- Physical resources
Cooper and Kleinschmidt have found that this is one of the main reasons why new products fail. It appears that most people think that the activities in the Front-End are “free”. Don’t underestimate this part. The activities before development need your attention. That means investing time and effort in the activities, just like with the development phase.
Increase the degree of multidisciplinary work
As mentioned before, the Front-End is a set of activities that is done before the development phase. It is not a single activity such as marketing or technical development.
Therefore, before a project transfers to the development phase, it needs to meet multidisciplinary criteria, such as technical feasibility, market sufficiency, and business model viability.
Preparing an idea only on one dimension is sub-optimal. Therefore, increase the success of the Front-End by allowing more multidisciplinary work to be finished.
Have an order of Front-End activities
An order will enable you to order and coordinate efforts. Efforts increase when they are coordinated. Therefore, increase the performance in the activities before development by allowing for more coordination of the efforts in the Front-End.
Markham et al. propose a model that brings order in the Front-End activities. According to recent research, the following activities should be performed in the Front-End:
- Recognizing the market potential of an idea
- Demonstrating the potential of the new opportunity, and
- Transferring the new opportunity into the development phase.
Be selective of the ideas you develop
The success of the Front-end is measured in how successful it is at delivering high-quality ideas.
A lot has to be done in the development phase. An idea does not just flow from the Front-End to the market.
Even in the development phase, there is a need to further assess, define, refine, develop, scale up, and then launch the product. Subsequently, product performance depends on both the quality of the original idea and the entire process itself.
This means that a bad idea stays a bad idea, with or without a Front-End. The only difference will be the degree of failure. Therefore, the real success depends to a large extent on how successful you are at actually generating good ideas.
This means that you should not allow every idea flow to your development phase. You must screen your ideas in order to assess the quality of it. In reality, a small part of all the ideas turn out to be feasible enough to develop and ultimately prove to be successful.
Therefore, don’t fall instantly in love with all your ideas, which is easier said than done.
Monitor and control the number of projects that transfer to the development phase
Investing resources in the activities before development increases the amount of successful ideas. Does this mean that you should work all of them? No.
The amount of ideas for a particular firm to work on is not clear. However, having a Front-End helps reduce the ideas or at least monitor and control the number of projects that transfer to the development phase.
This article has discussed how the performance of a new product in the marketplace can be predicted and influenced before any development starts.
Specifically, by assessing the success of Front-End activities, the performance of a new product can be predicted. This is in line with the work of Markham. He was the first to show empirically that product value is created in the Front-End.
Of everything that you can do to improve your new product’s performance, attention to the Front-End will save the most time at the lowest cost. This means that you must invest (more) in activities before development in order to increase the new product’s performance.
You should pay close attention to what goes on there, because individual Front-End activities are not, by themselves directly related to new product performance.
In short, implement a set of activities before development that are in line with this article to save huge amount of time and costs. By implementing activities before development you will achieve two important results:
- You can develop more successful products
- You can stop unsuccessful projects earlier