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Developing a New Product

[Guide] Mastering the Stages of Developing a New Product

There are many different ways to develop a product and bring it to market, but sooner or later, they all go through the same general process. No one really dreams up a product, whips up a prototype, and has a perfect idea ready to go. There’s trial and error, testing, development, iteration, research, and more all poured into development behind even the simplest projects.

How can you develop a new product, keeping ethics in mind at every stage of development? Let’s run through the process.

Step 1: Ideation

The first step to bringing a product to market is coming up with a good product idea. Of course, we live on a planet with billions of people, many of whom have product ideas, and those ideas range from vastly complex and impossible to achieve to so simple as to be already extant everywhere. Finding the sweet spot means finding something that can fill a need, has some reason to buy it over existing competition, and can be profitable when all is said and done.

Critically, this first step is about coming up with ideas, not about filtering or proving them. Your ideas may be bad. Upon research, they may be great, but also they may already exist. There may not be room on the market for a competitor with your resources. There are many possible reasons why an idea can fail. But, without ideas, you can’t proceed.

Coming Up With an Idea

Where can you come up with ideas?

  • Ask employees what pain points they experience in their lives and what ideas they may have to solve them.
  • Consider feedback from customers on existing products and what product might solve their problems.
  • Identify problems in a niche community, hobby, or industry and seek potential product-oriented solutions to those problems.

While free-form idea generation can be effective, you can also look to ideation models. A popular option is the SCAMPER model:

  • S – Substitute – How can an element of an existing product be substituted with another to create a new product? For example, would changing the materials, color, shape, sound, or other elements of a product create a new product with a potential niche?
  • C – Combine – How can elements of products be combined to create a new product? Are there multiple products that can be combined into one with synergistic effects?
  • A – Adapt – How can an existing product be adapted to a new use or circumstance? How can an existing feature be adapted to a new use?
  • M – Modify – How can elements of an existing product be modified (magnified, minified) to create a new product? Can exaggerating a feature or downplaying a feature make a new product?
  • P – Put to Another Use – How can an existing product be put to use in a different time, place, scenario, or purpose, such that it can be marketed as a different product?
  • E – Eliminate – How can an element of an existing product be eliminated to create a new product? Can complexity, features, or unnecessary bulk be removed to create a slimmer, sleeker, or simplified version?
  • R – Rearrange – How can elements of a product be rearranged to create a functionally different product?

Following an ideation model like this can allow you to take a core product, process, or concept and modify it in dozens of different ways to create potential new product ideas, which you could then funnel through the rest of the product development process.

Step 2: Research and Discover

The second step, now that you have a robust list of potential product ideas, is to validate your ideas with the new product discovery process. This process involves two key elements: duplication studies and feasibility research.

Duplication studies are relatively simple: seek out resources to identify whether or not your potential products already exist, and if so, if there’s a reason why you can’t make a competing product. For example, if the product you’re considering making is already patented, you might not be able to make your own version and can discard the product idea – or further modify it to stand on its own.

Research and Discover

The second portion of validation is feasibility research. Anyone can bring a product to market, but if that product has no interest from anyone, no one will buy it, and you’re left with a developed product and no sales.

There are many different ways to perform product feasibility studies. You can ask on social media or forums like Reddit, send out surveys, pay for market research studies, and run public interest checks with crowdfunding through platforms like Kickstarter. Once an idea has been validated, you can proceed.

Step 3: Planning

The third step is to plan the product you want to create. Up to this point, you have an idea, but you don’t have the details. You don’t know what its size is, what capabilities it has, what details it has, or anything else that can have a tangible impact on its desirability.

Factors you might consider include the ratio of “gain” to “pain”; that is, how much does a user of an existing product stand to gain from switching to your product versus how much pain do they endure in switching? You can also build a value proposition chart to identify what is unique and useful about your product.

Planning a Product

Another useful resource here is a list of competitors and competing products that already exist. For each competitor, it can be very useful to know where you stand and how you would try to out-compete them or find your own niche. Are you less expensive or more premium? Do you offer more features or fewer unnecessary features? Do you target different demographics? All of these factors can have an impact on how you proceed with production.

Step 4: Prototyping

This is the point where you start to convert your idea into physical form (or, in the case of things like software and apps, tangible digital form.) You may have drawn up design documents or made mock-ups out of crafting materials, but until this point, you don’t have anything that functions as the product you want to create. This is the point that you start making them.

The widespread availability of 3D printers has made this a lot easier for many physical products. Rapid prototyping and iteration can be done in a home office situation rather than through lengthy communication with prototyping offices and manufacturing facilities. This saves time, money, and even shipping costs for prototypes.

Prototyping a Product

Prototyping allows you to see and handle a product in reality. More importantly, it allows you to actually hold and use a product and analyze its elements for special attention. Do areas need reinforcement or adjustment to be easier to use? Do features need to be rearranged because they aren’t as handy in practice as in concept?

Your initial prototype will almost never be viable on its own. There will universally be reasons why your prototype isn’t up to par, and you’ll need to make iterations and adjustments. Depending on the kind of product and the type of prototype, this may be easier or harder to do, but it’s essential regardless. Iterative prototyping is required to create a consistent user experience and a high-quality product.

Step 5: Sourcing

Up until this part, ethics haven’t necessarily played a huge role in the process. You can start with ethics as a core concept and focus on elements of product design, like removing or replacing less ethical products in the marketplace, but overall, it’s more about conceptual design than it is about tangible impact.

For this fifth step, ethics plays a much more significant role. This is where you’re making tangible decisions about where you get the materials for your product, where that product is manufactured, and more. This is where you decide between random suppliers in China or Fair Trade or B Corp suppliers. This is where you seek out manufacturing facilities on domestic soil to eliminate trans-oceanic shipping and the environmental impact thereof. This is where you find manufacturing facilities and logistics companies with union workers and ethical treatment of employees to build into your supply lines.

Sourcing from a Supplier

For an example of how all of this can work, browse our store, choose any product you like, and ask us about it. Transparency and ethics throughout our entire supply line are key elements of our company, and it’s something we’re both passionate about and more than happy to discuss. We can show you how it’s done so you can follow a similar process to your own success.

Step 6: Costing

At this point, you have a wealth of information about your product, and one of those pieces of information is an overall picture of how much it costs to produce your product, from sourcing the initial materials to manufacturing to fulfillment. All of this adds up to COGS or Cost Of Goods Sold.

Calculating Product Costs

Using this figure, you can now determine pricing. You can identify different pricing tiers, including a price level that would be “pie in the sky” profitable, a price point for average profits and a decent gross margin, and the minimum break-even point. You can also look for ways that you might improve overall costs, and ways that not improving costs (such as going with more expensive but more ethical suppliers) can lend themselves to better marketing to sustain a higher price point.

Step 7: Market Testing

At this point, you still haven’t activated your supply lines and brought your product to market. You still have one more step to take before that happens. This is where you do small, limited runs of creating your product and send it through market testing.

The first step is alpha testing. Alpha testing is a thorough test of the product on various axes, including aspects like the overall performance, the feel of using it, any failures of the product, and more. This is meant to iron out flaws in the manufacturing process and to put a product to use in a limited environment of real-world testing rather than prototype testing.

Market Testing

The second step is beta testing. Once a product has passed alpha testing, beta testing opens it up to a limited selection of your real potential audience. This is often a closed group – sometimes even under NDA – where the product can be given out and feedback returned by actual customers who would actually use the product in actual life. Their feedback can identify pain points or elements of friction that testing does not.

Based on beta testing feedback, you can then address problems with your product, which can involve anything from re-engineering elements of the product to improving documentation about using it.

Step 8: Commercialization

This final step is the part where it all comes together. You spin up your manufacturing, whip up marketing, and begin sales. Fulfillment launches into operation.

There are many pitfalls in this stage of product development. Some are bad, like flaws that weren’t caught in testing but are widespread in actual manufacturing. Others are “good,” such as selling more than your fulfillment can handle right away. “Good” is in quotes here because you are liable to lose preorders and interest if delays extend too long, but it’s still better to have too much interest than no interest at all.

It’s truthfully rather rare that a company gets every aspect of commercialization right on the first try; adjustments will always need to be made. The key is to have backups and secondary suppliers as necessary and be able to spool up or down to react to market interest.

Product Commercialization

This is also where marketing takes center stage. You have your product, but you need to turn to your initial development and your market research to guide how you position your product on the market, how you advertise it, and how you bring in those sales. Emphasizing ethical production, for example, can be a key point in your marketing.

Then, when all is said and done, and your product is stable at coming to market, you can roll the profits from a successful product into the development of another.

As always, if you ever have any questions about anything we discussed in this article, please feel free to ask at any time. We’d be more than happy to assist you.