I was part of a new product development team at a food manufacturer in Randfontein, Gauteng, when one of our products faced the threat of international competition. There was no way that we could sit back and do nothing. For two years prior to the competitor’s entry into the local market we worked flat out.
The threat of a new entrant into a product category dominated by local food manufacturers gave us a clear purpose. We had to do everything that was commercially viable to prevent the international competitor from gobbling up our share of shelf space in the retail chains, wholesalers and general trade.
The product development team was composed of professionals with deep product management knowledge and expertise. There were no slackers or free riders on the team. Everyone pulled their weight and contributed to the new ideas process.
Facing the unknown no one shot down any ideas that were radically different to what was conventionally known. Crazy product ideas were given equal chance in the initial phases. If they didn’t make the final cut, it wasn’t because of someone’s opinion. Consumer testing and economics were among the criteria that we used in the evaluation.
I don’t know if you’ve experience what it’s like to work in new product development. You have to deal with a lot of things happening all at the same time. There needs to be constant interaction between team players. Work can continue late into the night. Despite the intense pressure, I never experienced ego-filled explosions or people losing their cool.
The stakes can be just as high in start-ups to produce new ideas for products and services. Yet in smaller businesses without the collective previous knowledge and experience of new product development, it’s easy to make mistakes.
One common mistake I’ve seen is that the leader does not select a team with all the members having something of value to contribute. You need people who think differently and have prior proof of innovation.
A big mistake is not having a well defined goal or purpose. Focus counts. Idea-generation sessions need to be planned, research and market testing must be done cost effectively and business planning requires a fair level of detail.
The leader, who is likely to be the business owner, should be open-minded and allow members to associate ideas freely. I’m not saying you must use the dinosaur “no-criticism” rule. Constructive thinking or criticism is more effective. But this takes an inspiring leader to encourage others to offer their best ideas.
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