We have spent many decades working on product development projects. You might be surprised at the domains and knowledge areas needed to successfully understand the market and produce a viable and beneficial product. This exploration has led us to explore the input side, often from the marketing team, all the way to the delivery of the product. As engineers, we realize that knowing how to design a thing is a fraction of what is required for success.
Understanding the market and what questions we need to ask from an engineering perspective is another component of successful delivery and the reason for Jon’s MBA. Further, we will require strong project management skills to deliver the product on time (within market opportunity) at customer cost and quality, within the project budget (business case), or at least within the acceptable range that will allow the endeavor to be profitable.
Project managers will use their skills to serve many industries and domains. In doing so, the project manager will ideally learn about that domain if you manage product development projects. The experiences will provide an understanding of typical risks because they will likely experience those things that can go wrong in product development projects. There can be many projects in a product, from development to adaptation.
Figure 1 is an example of the product lifecycle1
To discuss product growth, we should know a little about the product and its lifecycle. This is not the product development lifecycle; we will also take a short foray. We will launch the product to the customer at the start of the product (the result of a product development project).
- Focus: Launching the product and gaining market entry. Continuous improvement of manufacturing processes will be refined to improve volume and efficiency.
- Characteristics: Slow sales, few customers, high marketing costs, potential losses.
- Focus: Increasing market share and profitability. This includes product adaptations (modifications requiring another project) to enlarge the prospective customer base.
- Characteristics: Rising sales, expanding customer base, positive cash flow.
- Focus: Sustaining market position and maximizing profits. Projects are undertaken to reduce product and process costs to continue profitability. These projects may include new sourcing strategies and substitute materials to reduce costs and remain relevant.
- Characteristics: Stable sales, market competition, cost control, and product extensions.
- Focus: Managing the decline in product sales. Explore whether a new version of the product is viable or profitable.
- Characteristics: Decreasing sales, market saturation, obsolete technology.
Product Development Lifecycle
The processes that go into developing the product will depend at least in part upon the state of the product. Are we starting from nothing or adapting an existing product? Below is a brief outline of the maximum steps to develop a product as we are starting from an idea. Some steps may be truncated or even eliminated if the project is to modify an existing product, but this will depend upon the scope of the product alteration.
- Focus: Generating multiple ideas and refining specific ideas for the new product.
- Activities: Brainstorming, market research, experimentation with product options, and idea validation.
- Focus: Developing a comprehensive plan for the product's creation.
- Activities: Defining goals, setting timelines, allocating resources. This may include a product roadmap based on our market understanding (always subject to revision).
- Focus: Creating the blueprint for the product based on requirements.
- Activities: Prototyping, simulation, wireframing, and design iterations.
- Focus: Building the product according to the design specifications.
- Activities: Coding, hardware, testing, debugging.
- Focus: Ensuring the product meets quality standards.
- Activities: QA testing, which includes design testing, manufacturing testing, user testing, and associated bug fixing.
- Focus: Introducing the product to the market.
- Activities: Marketing, promotion, packaging, distribution channels developed.
- Focus: Providing ongoing support and addressing issues.
- Activities: Customer service, product updates (where applicable), maintenance.
Product Growth in the context of project management refers to the strategies and activities aimed at increasing the user base, improving user satisfaction, and expanding the impact of a product or service over time. While traditional project management focuses on delivering specific features or capabilities within a defined scope, product growth extends beyond the initial project phase to ensure ongoing success and relevance in the market.
Essential for Product Growth
There are some fundamental principles of Product Growth in project management.
- User-Centric Approach: Prioritize the needs and preferences of users (customers) throughout the product lifecycle. Understand user feedback, analyze user behavior, and continuously iterate on the product to enhance user satisfaction.
- Iterative Development: Embrace an iterative and incremental development approach. Instead of a one-time project delivery, focus on releasing features or updates regularly to respond to user needs and market changes.
- Data-Driven Decision Making: Leverage data analytics to gather insights into user behavior, preferences, and trends. Use this information to make informed decisions about feature prioritization, improvements, and overall product strategy.
- Cross-functional collaboration: Encourage collaboration between various teams, including product management, development, marketing, and customer support. A cross-functional approach ensures that all aspects of the product are considered and aligned with growth goals.
- Experimentation and A/B Testing: Experiment with new features, designs, or marketing strategies to see what resonates best with users. A/B testing allows you to compare different versions of a product or feature to identify the most effective approach.
- Customer Retention: While acquiring new users is important, retaining existing users is equally crucial. Implement strategies to enhance customer loyalty, promptly address issues, and provide users with ongoing value.
- Scalability: Design the product and infrastructure with scalability in mind. As user numbers grow, the product should be able to handle increased demands without compromising performance or user experience.
- Market Expansion: Explore opportunities to enter new markets or target different user segments. This could involve localization efforts, adapting the product to different demographics, or addressing specific niche markets.
- Feedback Loops: Establish continuous feedback loops with users, stakeholders, and the market. Regularly gather feedback to identify improvement areas and align the product with changing market dynamics.
- Agile Principles: Embrace Agile principles and methodologies to facilitate quick adaptation to changes, respond to customer feedback promptly, and deliver value incrementally.
Projects can be undertaken to develop a new product or to extend the feature content of the product. Project management skills will be required no matter where on this product development continuum. Product growth in project management broadens the focus beyond the initial project development, emphasizing continuous improvement, user satisfaction, and the ability to adapt to evolving market conditions. It involves a holistic and ongoing approach to maximize the long-term success of a product or service. The project manager who manages these projects will face many challenges, just like other projects.
1 Quigley, J. M., & Gulve, A. (2023). Modernizing Product Development Processes. Warrendale, PA: SAE International.