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Corra Consulting - Are We Slowly Killing True Product Development?


Are We Slowly Killing True Product Development?

Product development is the lifeblood to consumer products companies--whether of the manufacturing or retail bend. From my perspective, the surest path to healthy and profitable growth is freeing this team to create product change for the better. While this may seem obvious, ask yourself if this is honestly what your business is doing.

Under ideal circumstances, companies would emulate what our forefathers envisioned for our government--Election Day is a week away so we'll go with this... Organizations would incorporate a system of checks and balances. Taking this analogy forward, consider that product developers would operate as the Legislative Branch, the corporate leadership team would be the Executive Branch, and our consumers, who vote with their wallets, would be Judicial--judge and jury.

Fleshing this out, the product developers would listen to their constituents and consider how they might provide new solutions or simple improvements that would best meet the wants and needs of the people. Executive leadership--with the advisement of the core team--would give a yea or a nay to what has been proposed. And, consumers would then interpret the correctness and appropriateness of the proposed product. Weighing the item they see before them, they would ask: Does this solve a problem for me? Does this make my life easier, more enjoyable, more beautiful? Is there value here? And, with a retail transaction, a judgment rendered.

I know we do not work under ideal circumstances. However, when the system of checks and balances goes unchecked and is unbalanced, I would argue that what is hurt the most is product--and, in turn, the growth and profitability of a company. Here are three critical failures that have appeared in more abundance of late and are failures that I believe are slowly killing true product development:

  • New product did not originate with the development team. Research is a valuable tool to explore consumer sentiments. It is not, however, in my opinion, best utilized to acquire new product ideas from your shoppers or have them positively validate your product designs. Research should identify problems to solve--what could create authentic value in a product.
  • New product development began with a price instead of a problem. Professionally, I am firmly opposed to charging a development team with designing into a price point. Put simply, it’s not a process designed to encourage innovation. It’s designed to solve a math problem--not what people buy.
  • The Silo Mentality. Some retailers have gone so far as to combine product development and merchandising at a non-executive level. Here, the product developer goes unchecked. Instead of affording the CMO an ability to hear from the distinct heads of merchandising and product development, you’re setting a dynamic where they are listening to one perspective. Limiting voice and perspective can only negatively impact a program’s chance for success.

Are we doing everything wrong? No. However, I have a general concern that retail has stalled out because shoppers with fewer dollars to spend are not seeing enough value to buy. The shopper isn’t what is broken in this scenario, but our process may be.

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