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Benchmarking The People Behind The Products

The reality is that even the most meticulous prototyping process cannot guarantee success, but a formal process will put you in the right direction.

Product Prototyping: Mitigating Risk in NPD Projects

In new product development (NPD) projects, the prototyping stage is where an idea becomes reality. This critical stage sets the foundation for the future success of an organization's new product.  Here is where engineering and design are tested, market studies are conducted and an organization's ability to assess their own capabilities to fully support the product are put through its paces.

Typically pre-production prototyping can be divided into three distinct phases:

  • Scoping -- Preliminary assessment of market conditions, technical feasibility, financial viability and overall risk of the selected product.
  • Building the Business Case -- Detailed analysis of market conditions, technical feasibility, financial viability and overall risk; as well as the planning of production, distribution, concept testing and action plan(s).
  • Development -- Development of a working prototype and design, user case studies, customer feedback, production processes, supply chain processes, and product launch; as well as the review of product regulations and intellectual property.

The first two phases primarily focus on the assessment of a product's viability, and the last phase primarily focuses on the viability of the plan and the development of a working prototype. The sole purpose of these three phases is to enable you to test and refine your product idea so that it is in line with ideal market conditions, employs the best in materials and design, and provides the most comprehensive documentation for financing, patent development and regulatory compliance. 

As a safeguard, organizations will typically establish a gated process with multiple decision points. This ensures that each product development phase is assessed by the appropriate stakeholders to confirm that certain levels of quality are being met before moving to the next phase. This gated process is in place to mitigate risk and validate the initial findings during every step along the pre-production prototyping path. For many organizations, the critical decision points during these phases can mean the difference between heavily investing in a "star" product that will deliver successful results and killing a project before it's too late.

Plan for success: Behind every great product there are great people  

During the prototyping stage, an organization's resources drive new product development projects and confirm all the checks and balances along their path. Resources are not only responsible for the tactical execution of the engineering, design and market assessment, but are also responsible for the strategic decisions to adjust or, in some cases, put the entire project on hold. During the prototyping phases, testing a working product prototype in relation to the marketplace is only one side of the equation. The other side of your product's success will depend on your organization's ability to execute and deliver on your plan. Consequently, a comprehensive prototyping effort will move beyond the product itself and validate that the best resources and talent are available to deliver a quality and profitable product to the marketplace.

  • When assessing your project team, here are some common questions an organization needs to ask itself to gain better visibility into its future success:
  • Do I have the commitment from my "A Team" and its stakeholders?
  • Are there resource gaps and/or shortages in my forecasted timeline?
  • Do I have the right talent and/or do I need to recruit additional expertise for the project?
  • Does this new project negatively impact other high priority assignments and projects?
  • Is the project in line with our corporate objectives?

Having a clear view of resources and talent will provide a clearer picture into the future success of a new product and consequently help reduce the risk of poor execution in future stages of your NPD process.

Making the grade: Is your prototype ready for production?

In the final analysis, carefully assessing the prototyping stage in new product development projects is critical in validating that an organization's investment in its people, time and money is focused on the right activities. Alternatively, a non-exhaustive dissection of this stage increases the risk of failure and can lead to disastrous results in the next stage of production where extensive investment is made. Consequently, prototyping requires careful planning that will yield expected results when moving to production.

At the end of the prototyping stage, organizations are at a critical point in their new product development cycle when they make the difficult decision to continue the project or stop it in its tracks. Developing the best metrics to gain an accurate view of your NPD project's potential will not necessarily guarantee success. However, it will mitigate risk and at the least ensure that your team is making an informed decision.

Metrics based on your organization's success factors empower project stakeholders in the involvement and ultimate decision on a project's approval. As a result, tracking success factors will formalize the decision making process and can yield the following benefits:

  • Validate the alignment of your prototype results with your corporate objectives
  • Prioritize your project within your entire portfolio of NPD projects
  • Alert your stakeholders to potential problems and validate difficult decisions to kill the project (if needed)
  • Build a case for balancing risk versus reward

The reality is that even the most meticulous prototyping process cannot guarantee success. As this is the case, adopting a formal NPD process during pre-production prototyping will allow for a more streamlined execution of the assessment of your working prototype and will provide you with the necessary foundation to successfully produce, market and distribute your new product.


Neil Stolovitsky ([email protected]) is a senior solution specialist at Genius Inside, a Canada and Switzerland-based developer of project management software. Genius Inside's Genius Project family of PPM solutions enables organizations to manage and prioritize product ideas; ensure that the best resources are working on the most promising projects; and facilitate on-time project delivery. More than 60,000 users at 600 customers across the globe use Genius Inside's Web- and IBM Lotus Notes-based solutions.