The New Product Development Process

While there are many motivations to develop new products, ultimately, one reason rises above all others: Competitive Advantage. Both marketers and manufacturers alike want to compete more effectively in their marketplace. The key to achieving those advantages are often new product development initiatives that seek to satisfy consumer needs above and beyond current offerings. 

Before we dive too deeply into the nature and steps of new product development, one misconception must be quickly dispelled: there is no magic elixir to accelerate the process, regardless of where the product will be designed, developed, and delivered. In most cases the timeline averages around 12-18+ months, depending on the overall complexity, needs, and details of the project. Additionally, while capital requirements vary widely with project specifics, $1-1.5 million is the standard recommended budget to successfully design, develop, and launch a new product.

Over the last 20 years, Sprout has worked with clients from Fortune 500 companies to startups and everything in-between to design a wide variety of products, and have combined that experience to internalize best practices for new product development project success from concept generation to production.

As outlined below, the product development process involves three core phases, each made up of numerous sub-phases with checks and balances that must be met before continuing on to the next. Skipping any one of those steps can result in significant issues with the project as it progresses downstream, so process continuity is critical. Sprout’s core competency is Phase 1, given our legacy as a design consultancy

Phase 1: Concept Viability

Approximately 3-6 months

In Phase 1, the idea takes shape and the new product design is proven to show value in the marketplace and is evaluated for any specific or unknown risks. 

Sub-phases include:

  • P1.1 Design Research: conduct in-depth research and exploration of the product idea, the market, and areas of opportunity, target consumer/user, and the specific needs of the client and their business  
  • P1.2 Concept Development: ideation and brainstorming are used develop a wide range of potential solutions from mild-to-wild, with extensive collaboration to pinpoint the most impactful and user-centered solution(s) to pursue
  • P1.3 Design Refinement: fine tune the approved concept, and elicit responses from target consumers/users to direct the design to its more final form
  • P1.4 Final Design Approval: collect and organize the technical assets that define the new product for review by engineering and manufacturing partners
  • P1.5 Proof of Concept Prototype: produce a physical sample of the approved design for review by the development team and to provide clarity of intent for the Marketing and Sales teams
  • P1.6 Fundraising: develop the necessary communication assets, budget projections, and tentative production schedules to continue building capital resources that advance the new product development process

Phase 2: Design Feasibility

Approximately 6-9 months

In Phase 2, engineering, manufacturing, and production teams work to confirm cost-efficient delivery and overcome all known and addressable risks. Sprout remains actively involved throughout this phase in a consulting capacity to maintain the integrity of the approved design as needs or team requests dictate.

Sub-phases include:

  • P2.1 Supplier Sourcing: liaison efforts to solicit cost estimates for all aspects of the project from a range of suppliers, confirm and qualify preferred partnerships, and award the work
  • P2.2 Project Management: confirm the application of methods, skills, knowledge, and experience to achieve specific project objectives according to agreed parameters and criteria
  • P2.3 Mechanical and/or Electrical Engineering: professional engineers work alongside integrated supplier teams to manage issues, overcome challenges, and articulate technical requirements to build the technical assets required for manufacturing 
  • P2.4 Firmware and/or Software Development: depending on the initiative, most new product development projects require some degree of firmware and/or software asset creation
  • P2.5 Final CAD Package: develop the required 3D files sufficient to describe the new project holistically, including all details and features incorporated into the physical nature of the product and the location of necessary interior components
  • P2.6 Mold and Tooling Development: work with molding partners to define the approach required to fabricate the molds that will create the components forming the new product housing and ensure that design integrity remains intact
  • P2.7 Lab/Certification: pursue required testing and certifications depending on the exact nature of the new product and the technology and claims to be made regarding its performance, durability, and ability to withstand environmental influences 
  • P2.8 Production Specifications: manufactured parts and assembled products are expected to conform to codified specifications articulating and controlling short term testing and long term production cycles

Phase 3: Launch & Sell-In

Approximately 3-6 months

In Phase 3, the focus shifts to supporting market introduction and distribution needs while the new product is launched with a measurable scale of managed risk. This phase is led by recommended partners and selected vendors with oversight from Sprout as needed or as dictated by team requests. 

Sub-phases include:

  • P3.1 Supply Chain Management: partners will establish and maintain strong situational awareness of all responsibilities and their current status regarding delivery against their contracted terms 
  • P3.2 Sell-In to Key Accounts: work with sales teams on the acquisition and/or support of key accounts and sales meetings with store buyers 
  • P3.3 First Article Approvals: review and critique first article of production samples to confirm all known and established specifications are met
  • P3.4 Design Integrity Oversight: design team ensures the pre-production units do not deviate from the approved product concept that was created and approved in earlier phases
  • P3.5 Final Engineering Confirmations: announce, document, and acknowledge any small refinements and/or changes that are not significantly impacting the approved product design, using known protocols, sign-offs, etc.
  • P3.6 Shipping and Delivery Strategy: as required, determine the importation and transportation of production quantities from port of entry to approved distribution centers, planning for palletization, container cube-out, LTL, etc.
  • P3.7 In-Store & Online Presentation: develop the strategy, branding, and communication assets needed to present the new product to target consumers, and interface with retail and online merchandising professionals and planners
  • P3.8 Marketing Strategy: prepare the long-term product plan and consumer messaging for promotions, public relations, digital marketing, and where needed, retailer engagement; develop the communication assets, packaging and merchandising to present the product to the buying public 
  • P3.9 Go-to-Market Strategy: outline the specifics behind how target customers will be reached and how to differentiate the new product offering from competitors; prepare the necessary materials to educate sales and support teams; establish key performance indicators to determine effectiveness of the new product launch

In summary, hardware is HARD. There is no ‘easy-in, easy-out’ approach to this integrated and iterative process. We produced this article to help first-time product development clients better understand the scope and implications of the process, its steps, and investment in time and budget— of which, Design only makes up about one third of the enterprise. As a design consultancy Sprout’s core competency is Phase 1, but we are here to guide clients the entire way as we work in collaboration with suppliers and manufacturers to bring your product to market. 

If you have an idea you’d like to develop with our multidisciplinary team, reach out to Sprout for a project quote via our website or email jordan@sprout.cc.

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