The Idea View: Developing New Products

May 24, 2012

Within the aftermarket there are is no season for product idea creation or the next best thing. We live in an ever-evolving workplace where the development of products and services is on the mind of many each day.

The process is to fit the need of the end-user and to compete with a sustainable and workable idea. Not an easy task. But, you can master what I refer to as the Idea View in a few easy, organized steps.

The Idea View

I hope you constantly come up with plenty of ideas for new products and other ways to improve your business. I also hope that many of your ideas are cockeyed or impossible, or incompatible with your current business model.

No, I’m not a sadist. I’m saying that when you come up with business ideas, you should be creative and open-minded. If you try to get it right the first time, you’ll get it wrong-that is to say, you have to have an open mind to reach the full potential of your creativity.

When you brainstorm with an open mind, you give your company a chance to come up with a great idea that changes your niche of the aftermarket. Think creative horsepower with unlimited fuel flow.

You get the idea. You’re creative, want more to market and see the customer need. You contemplate many winning ideas, and then sift through to a small handful to pass on to your team for comment. They can help make the decisions about which new projects to pursue.

You want to make the job easier by screening ideas, turning the best ideas into concepts, and giving the decision-making team the top-shelf choices to review for further development. This is where the Idea View comes into play.

The Idea Team

It works best when the team that comes up with the ideas sticks with them through the Idea View process. The people on the team are familiar with the ideas, and can frankly do a good job of describing their strengths and weaknesses.

Adding a few others to make sure you have diversity of experience and points of view is also a good idea. Also, when the team stays with its own ideas, the ideas are less likely to get lost in the shuffle. Many companies have plenty of ideas floating around with no champions to support them and no process for getting them in front of the Idea Team.

The more consistent your decision-making format, the better your company’s decisions will be. It’s a small but important task to develop a language for coding information.

For example, your company can create similar portfolio maps for every portfolio exercise, and you can use the same forms for logging ideas and concepts. When you’re consistent, you don’t have to try to figure out how to compare the results of one idea generation session with another. The comparison is obvious because all the teams use the same formats.

Narrowing the Field

After each idea-generation session that your company conducts, or whenever you collect a number of ideas for new products, you can hold an idea screening session that focuses on the most promising ideas.

Consider this process an additional Idea View session for generating ideas. Plan an agenda that controls content and timing as schedules permit.  That way, a team can review its ideas while they’re still fresh on their minds, and its members can be sure that the job won’t get pushed aside and left alone.

In those meetings, an Idea View consists of three steps:

  • Describing the ideas.
  • Selecting the winning ideas.
  • Creating an idea portfolio to display the winning ideas.

Following the completion of these three steps, the new product development team should select several of the ideas and write up Concept Briefs for each.

Step 1: Describing the ideas

For the first step in the aftermarket new product idea process, the team meets to log the ideas and get a rough idea of which ones should be carried forward. Here are the suggested steps:

  • Divide the ideas among team members.
  • Distribute and fill out one Idea Form per idea (note example below).
  • Post the completed Idea Forms on the meeting room walls.
  • Give each team member a chance to read though the Idea Forms.

The completed Idea Form provides a record of the idea that your company can use in making the next decisions about which direction to take. (Note the Idea Form example below that outlines a likely simplified approach to establishing your company’s personal Idea Form.)

It is important to note that team members include enough information so that the people who weren’t in on the idea generation and screening sessions can understand the ideas presented.

The Idea Form should be simple. Don’t ask too much detail at this stage in the development process-honestly, you don’t know very much at this point and you don’t want to spend a great deal of time and effort researching ideas that may not make it to the next stage.

Don’t kill ideas with too much formality, and don’t ask for the precision that goes beyond the data you already have or can gather easily.

The following is an example you may incorporate into your new product planning and decision-making process. I recommend that you keep all these forms on file, because you may want to go back to an idea that didn’t seem so great at one time and rework it into a compelling concept.

Your group may have had an idea that was before its time. The technology, budget or other factors may not have been available, or the world just wasn’t ready yet. A good idea is simply a good idea that can be great.

Idea Form

  • Date
  • Code Name: don’t make a move without a code name
  • What is the idea?
  • How would the idea work? B2B – B2C marketable
  • Is there a compelling customer need?
  • Is there a compelling technology story?
  • Can the price point match the market?

After voting, the team should discuss the “maybes.” This discussion will help clarify the ideas and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

After this discussion, the team may decide to drop some of the ideas. I recommend that the team retain any ideas that any team member strongly favors. Hunches often turn into the best concepts.

Step 2: Select the best ideas

The second step is to ask the team members to vote for the ideas they think the company should investigate further. Remind the team members to vote for ideas that they believe will appeal to customers and that are technically feasible.

Keep in mind that it’s OK if an idea doesn’t fit with the company’s existing business as long as they think that the idea could be developed into a successful product.

You don’t want to use rigorous criteria at this point. It’s sufficient to get rid of some of the weaker ideas that the team came up with. But wait until you have a chance to review all the ideas together, during the portfolio step, before eliminating too many of them.

Step 3: Create an Idea Portfolio to display the winning ideas

The collection of new products that the company plans to develop should represent a diversity of size, risk, market focus, product line, and so on. Without the portfolio view, decision makers are likely to settle for more limited-range projects.

For example, they may choose all sure bets or all products that focus on markets with which they’re familiar. The idea portfolio shows the decision makers at a glance how the ideas range across several important dimensions.

To create an idea portfolio, follow these steps:

  • List several portfolio criteria. Portfolio criteria relate to your company’s overall product strategy. Here is where you discuss markets you’d like to serve, technology that can give you an advantage, and product types you believe would be successful.
  • Next, tape a large sheet of paper on the wall and draw the portfolio dimensions that fit your idea.
  • Ask team members to write each idea that passed the Idea View on a sticky note.
  • Paste each note onto the appropriate position on the portfolio.

The ideas also may fall into other categories-for instance, which products lines they belong to or which markets they serve such as B2B and B2C. Team members might use different colored ink or different colored sticky notes to represent categories.

Consider this article a brief on steps to take in the new aftermarket development process. You may choose to rethink or group-think your current product line for improvement and assessment on sustainability, profit, and future life of the product.

Great ideas have generations to build upon and rethinking is an option I suggest with any product. Consider your competition is doing so and to be ahead of the curve, you have to be on the throttle hard every lap.

The goal of Idea View is to create new products or services that meet your company’s needs now and in the future.

Cheers ‘n gears.