Being that I found my technical roots in public service, I never considered the art of creating software through the lens of a new product development project; until I experienced the last two years of my life as a software applications manager.
Now I consider new product development par for the course implementing any new software development project.
While some people may shun the pain of working within a formal process, I believe the value that a process brings (through increasing the chance of project success) is well worth the challenge it presents.
Traditionally speaking, most technical teams are well versed in the benefit and execution of project management at various stages of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). However, they’re far less versed in the principles living within the discipline of new product development; nor where the two fields serve as complimentary partners in guaranteeing the success of a software development project.
Exceptional understanding of Voice of Customer (VOC) is a critical success point in any software development project, albeit frequently neglected when considering other factors thought more vital to the work of systems analysis (e.g. study of workflow and functional decomposition). Bottom up analysis of workflow problems is important to understanding a user’s immediate need, but conclusions based solely on bottlenecking leave you with an incomplete understanding of the user’s greater pain point(s).
Development and execution of a sound new product development process works to alleviate the failures of working within the limited lens of project management. It provides a means of seeing past the opening and closing of a project and seeks to give a product life from conceptual birth through adoption into the market.
When considering the benefits of a new product development process, and how to create one, my thought journey led me to a book by Robert Cooper and Scott Edgett entitled Lean, Rapid and Profitable New Product Development (2005). Within its pages Cooper and Edgett prescribe seven principles that (when applied correctly) aid in developing a sound new product development process that incorporates a comprehensive of study of VOC and works to ensure success of the goal; launch and closure of a profitable new product development project. The seven principles explored are:
- Keep the project customer focused.
- Ensure the front-end of the project contains a heavy load of homework aimed at understanding the market and product to be developed; you must know what right looks like before you can make it.
- Use a spiral development methodology (I’d argue a related agile method would work just as well); so, a close eye can be kept on market shifts and changing user needs.
- Take a holistic approach to the problem by using carefully crafted cross-functional teams.
- Maintain metrics, and accountability, with a focus on continuous improvement (developing excellence in a new product development process is a living effort, not a static one).
- Carefully manage the team’s project portfolio within the boundaries of a good strategic plan, and don’t be afraid to kill or put projects on hold based on evolving circumstance.
- Keep the team’s new product development process flexible, adaptable and scalable.
In my experience I’ve found each of these principles are ripe for inclusion in the work of executing any new product development process, no matter its state of maturity, and that project management rather easily finds its home nestled in the same.
Technical teams would be wise to adopt, and live out, these principles throughout the process of implementing a new software development project.