We have completed more than one thousand product development projects for more than 275 small companies. Often, we come in to “save” a project that has gone off-track. One of the biggest problems we see people doing is developing the wrong product, although often they’re doing it really well. Focusing only on how something is done, and not on what is being done, has led many a small company down the road of product development ruin. By “developing the wrong product,” I mean the concept for meeting the product requirements is flawed—their Conceptual Design is lacking.
Conceptual Design sets 90% of the development cost, unit cost, performance, usability, etc. Ninety percent of the success of a product is determined in the Conceptual Design phase. It is the most leveraged part of the development processes. Get this wrong and everything after can be a colossal waste of time and money—something small companies can rarely afford to do.
Conceptual Design is more than just a block diagram and flowchart. Conceptual Design is about developing a deep understanding of the requirements and comparing and contrasting different concepts for achieving these requirements in order to determine which concept will best meet the requirements.
The iPod saved Apple from bankruptcy, but it was not just about the idea of a digital music player. There were at least 20 other digital music players on the market long before they started the project. Apple understood at a very deep level that the requirement of “easy-loading songs” was extremely important, and they developed the concept of iTunes as a result of that understanding. We all know the results. Imagine if they had said, “We don’t need to worry about conceptual design. We know what we need already—we just need to focus on getting it to work.”
Without a good written requirements document, it is impossible to conduct a good CD. To ensure that as many different concepts as possible are considered, remove any “how to do it” statements from the requirements document. BTW – Click here for our free RD Template.
Widen your team:
Get as much input as possible at the beginning of the CD. Include people from as many different industries and specializations as possible, both internal and external (e.g., customers, vendors, consultants, and product development companies).
There must be adequate time to conduct a CD. Because most small businesses have long product turns, they can take their time conducting a CD. Typically, the CD phase of product development is a small percentage of the overall product development cost. Most of the cost is in detail design and design verification. We recommend to our clients that they always do a CD, regardless of whether or not it is time for a new model. This not only ensures you have time to conduct a proper CD, but it also ensures you are not blindsided by any new enabling technology that disrupts your market. If the CD does not result in an immediate detail design phase, then continue to freshen the CD each year until it does.
A CD is about finding the best concept for meeting the project requirements. To quantify “best,” weight the Requirements. To find the best concept, rank each concept against the weighted Requirements and score each concept.
If you would like to receive a Conceptual Design Template – Click here.