By Lisa Hamaker
May 19, 2011
Delayed new product launch dates significantly impact the long-term profitability of a product or service. So why do so many companies elect to delay their new product releases? In our experience, much of the responsibility for missing key target dates can be attributed to a condition we refer to as the kitchen sink syndrome.
The kitchen sink syndrome usually occurs when the product development team has more influence over the release process than the marketing and sales teams. With their technical focus and goal of perfection, new product developers can overlook their vested interest in revenue and strive to perfect every last feature and detail. They will continue to tweak the product or service product as long as they can. It doesn’t matter whether the product is a sophisticated computer system or frozen peas - the product development team will focus on perfection rather than revenue unless they are motivated differently.
Fortunately, the antidote to this syndrome is simple and straightforward: Minimize your product offering to increase revenues and profit. We refer to this solution as minimum useful product. Using this principle, the product development process will benefit in three ways:
- Faster track to revenue
- Better fit for the market
- Lower cost of development, marketing and sales
When products are released to the market more quickly they bring in revenue and profits sooner. They also cost less to develop because the development process is more focused and targeted to specific, shorter-term goals. The product is more aligned with customer’s wants and needs because early feedback is based on actual product usage, not prototypes and ideas. Google and Microsoft’s large Beta test programs are powerful examples.
The keys to a minimum useful product are:
- Create a cross-functional release team consisting of representatives from all departments involved in developing and launching a new product or service. The team should include engineering, marketing, sales, manufacturing and QA as a start.
- Engage the cross-functional team in a high level definition of (1) the ideal product or service offering; and (2) the minimum offering that will satisfy the majority of the prospective customer base. Keep in mind that for a new product, this prospect base may be different than long-term adopters.
- Review design intentions and outlines for new products with prospective customers and non-customers early in the development cycle. Then continue this process throughout the development cycle.
- Review all aspects of the product with the target market - product, service (pre- and post-sales service), distribution channel, price, packaging and promotion.
- Review and agree to any changes to the definition of the minimum useful product with a majority of the cross-functional release team.
Actively working with prospects during the whole product development process has additional benefits. The marketing team will have a deeper understanding of how their customers use (and benefit from) the product and will develop more targeted marketing materials as a result. This creates a more effective, focused launch, which saves time and money. Because customers have been more involved in the product development process, they will have a deeper sense of loyalty and be more likely to recommend the product to others.
The resulting product launch process looks like this:
- Release the minimum useful product to a test audience (sooner than the “perfected” product would have been released).
- Elicit feedback from customers who are deploying the product in true usage scenarios - from eating peas for dinner to installing and deploying complex computer systems.
- Integrate the feedback into the product design. This feedback will be more easily incorporated into the design of the new offering because it is available earlier in the development cycle.
- Add your company’s own product intelligence to heighten and tune the design to exceed your customers’ expectations. The sooner customer feedback is received, the more cogent your internal intelligence will be.
- Release updated products as needed, continuing to keep minimum useful offering in mind.
When incorporating these principles your product development cycle may look different - shorter rounds with more customer and prospect interaction. At first glance this may seem to add expense to the product development process, but the earlier ramp to revenue plus deeper market penetration and customer loyalty (with the resulting increased profitability) will quickly outweigh the possible added cost of customer interaction. Leaving out the kitchen sink and focusing on the minimum useful offering to reduce your development cycle will dramatically increase the success of your new product introduction.
Lisa Hamaker started her career as an electrical engineer, and then found defining and marketing products more interesting. In her 20-plus years as a product manager, director and consultant, she has helped numerous companies get useful products out the door. Contact her at www.kaliday.com.