Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version

product development reference tool

The first publication in the book series Exploratory PD® is now available

Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version is the introduction to this new product development methodology. It will be followed later this year by two volumes that provide more detail, plus supporting tools and techniques.

This executive version examines the organizational constraints imposed by a standard phased-and-gated product development process. We discuss why those constraints are a problem for organizations operating in today’s complex and changing world. We then look at the lessons of the Manhattan Project, a highly successful historical project, and introduce Exploratory PD (ExPD), an adaptable and flexible approach to developing products.

So often, product development fails to deliver on expectations. Why is it so hard to get product development right?

The underlying problem is uncertainty, which creates risk and the potential for loss. Making decisions in the absence of sufficient information is one of the biggest challenges we see in product development. For example, you may have a good understanding of the customer and competition but relatively little understanding of the technology to use. Alternatively, you might see potential use for an existing technology but not know very much about the market. Whenever there is a lot of uncertainty with a project, there’s the risk of making errors that are costly—not just in money or time, but in lost opportunities.

Traditional phased-and-gated product development processes address this risk through two principles: a standard process and complete definition of the product before starting development.

Prescribing a comprehensive and standard set of activities, deliverables, decision points and decision criteria is intended to ensure all knowable risks are identified and addressed. The activities usually start evaluating and defining the product at a high-level with low investment, then incrementally increasing the level of detail and investment over time.

Prior to starting the major investment in development, the product is completely defined and the business case justifies both the investment required and the expected return. Any changes to the product or plan during development can cause delays, increased costs and jeopardize the success of the project.

When the environment is stable or slowly changing in predictable ways, the traditional approach works well. Unfortunately for many companies, the environment is not stable and predictable. It has become dynamic and often rapidly-changing. Globalization has brought opportunities to enter new markets, and has brought in new competitors. Rapid advances in technology have made opportunities for whole new categories of products and brought unexpected growth and competition to mature markets.

The Standard Operating Procedure Meets the Unexpected

Many companies are finding themselves in an environment that is uncertain, fast-changing and increasingly complex. In this kind of environment, where much is unknown and evolving, the traditional product development approach cannot reliably identify new kinds of risk. It is also futile to completely define a product before starting development.

When companies try to maintain a traditional phased-and-gated process in a changing environment, the product development team is unable to manage to the scope, timeline and budget approved at the outset. The result usually includes changing product requirements, unexpected problems, rework, schedule delays, breaking the budget and commercial failure.

The product development team needs an approach that allows them to adapt to change in customer needs, markets, competition, technology and more.

Exploratory PD is Designed for the Unexpected

ExPD proposes a new approach to developing products, using a two-pronged solution: (1) treating product development from a comprehensive systems perspective, and (2) fundamentally redesigning the development process based on reducing project uncertainties and risk.

ExPD differs from the traditional phased and gated process in its fundamental redesign of the development process to reduce uncertainties and risks. It is an adaptive approach that responds quickly to changes in internal and external factors. This process helps project teams identify, evaluate, and prioritize uncertainties and risks throughout a project. It then helps the team determine how and when to resolve the uncertainty or when it is appropriate to kill a project. Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version explains the approach.

How to Obtain Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version

Our intention is to make ExPD concepts widely available so we are distributing this 45-page volume in pdf format, at a price of $5.00. It can be downloaded from the following services:

We would appreciate feedback on our approach, which can be sent by email or put on the discussion board of the book web page. If you would like to be a reviewer of our upcoming volumes, please send an email to Mary or Kathy.