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Posted by Tina Catling 8 August 2017 Workshops

Previously many associated innovation solely with invention and product development. Yet more recently the concept of innovation has come to be understood as infinitely wider, encompassing efficiency, strategy, employee engagement and creativity in organisational culture, to name but a few.

And yet though it is true that innovation is a vast field, product development does still hold a place among these facets, but has come to be somewhat under-appreciated. Requiring time, effort and money, the process of generating new product ideas, bringing these ideas to life and completing the necessary market testing to launch a new product can seem daunting. But with the right understanding of its value and how product development can be married to incremental innovation, organisations large and small can rekindle this element of the innovation process.


Key to understanding the relationship between innovation and product development is a nuanced definition of what is meant by the term. Though commonly used, definitions can often generate subtle insights that can inform strategy, which are lost in day to day conversations surrounding the topic.

According to Business Dictionary, product development means ‘the creation of products with new or different characteristics that offer new or additional benefits to the customer.’ Here two key elements are highlighted, the presence of a USP and the presence of a customer demand for a specific feature or service which is not available in the current offering. The definition goes on the explain that ‘product development may involve modification of an existing product or its presentation, or formulation of an entirely new product,’ pointing to the role of incremental innovation in the process as opposed to the constant need to create something completely new.


There are many commonly held presumptions about product development which often stand in the way of innovators looking to incorporate it into their strategy. Harvard Business Review (HBR) argued that many organisations make the mistake of believing that product development is akin to manufacturing, but this leads to a mismatch in approach and ignoring the unique features of product development.

It is suggested that ‘in product development many tasks are unique, project requirements constantly change, and the output—thanks, in part, to the widespread use of advanced computer-aided design and simulation and the incorporation of software in physical products—is information, which can reside in multiple places at the same time.’

HBR believes that the failure to understand the value of these key features has led to the creation of a number of myths about the execution of product development. Chief among these is the notion that by fully utilising and overworking resources, both financial and human, performance will be improved. As with any other innovation process, other factors such as employee engagement, work-life balance and a strong organisational culture of innovation are important if product development is to succeed. HBR notes that ‘we have seen that projects’ speed, efficiency, and output quality inevitably decrease when managers completely fill the plates of their product-development employees’, and thus such high utilisation can actually hamper attempts at product development. 


One of the best ways to implement product development is to learn from others who do it well. Although much is said about Silicon Valley in the technology industry, there is little doubt that its ability to continually push the boundaries of development make it one of the leading lights for those looking to learn.

A recent article by Danish non-profit Interaction Design Foundation explored the significance of Apple’s product development department, hailing its as ‘one of the most successful design processes ever implemented.’ The article argues that Apple has successfully put design at the forefront of everything it does, with the design department given free rein to ignore manufacturing practicalities, and often budgets, so as not to hamper the design process.

Although not many organisations can afford such a luxury, the logic of generating ideas first, then asking how to make this possible, is a sound one. Apple also plans the design process in great detail in order to ‘define what stages the product creation team will go through, who will be responsible for delivering the final product, who works on which stage and where they work and also when the product is expected to be completed.’ By creating structure and a clear division of labour for the development along the RACI model, organisations can ensure that the product development process is measurable, attainable and, importantly, a worthwhile investment of time and money.

If you’re not sure where to start, luckily think offers a product development workshop designed to engage and inspire fresh new thinking and then filter these ideas, selecting the best solutions to move forward with. We focus on speed to market and work through our specially designed process to get great products out there fast, helping you to implement some of the insights gained from following others in the field.

Follow the links below to find out more about the workshops we offer.

As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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