product development articles

Look at Product Development Differently…Take a Systems Approach


Some individuals have tried to simplify product development into two neat, pithy phrases: “choosing the right project” and “doing the project right.” These statements oversimplify the goal and imply that the work, coordination, and decisions involved in choosing the right projects and doing the projects right are simple and straightforward. The truth is, product development is much more than these two tasks, and to see that, we only need to look at who is involved in product development.

Virtually every department in an organization is touched by product development, meaning that multiple people, functions, processes, and infrastructures must be coordinated. As a result, product development is complex and needs to be managed as a system. In consulting with clients, we have always treated product development as a system (PD Elements™), integrating these important elements: strategy, market understanding, process, teams and organization, portfolio management, and metrics.

product development system elements

In contrast, traditional best-practice systems don’t treat product development as an integrated system. Managers, pressed for time and resources, tend to limit their focus to just the product development process. And that causes many of the problems we see:

  • A lack of a strategy to guide product development
  • Lack of a defined and strategically integrated portfolio management system, which leads to the selection of the wrong projects
  • Organization, team structure, and culture that are unaligned with the goals of product development
  • Lack of clear roles and responsibilities for both the project and executive team
  • Inadequate infrastructure of tools and metrics to support product development
  • Insufficient understanding of the market to identify important customer problems
  • Lack of a flexible product development process that reduces risks and adapts to commercial and technology changes

On occasion, we have worked with some clients that want us to “just look at the product development process” to fix their time-to-market issues, poor performing products etc.   We wish it could be this easy, but it isn’t.  Take a moment, and look beyond just the process, all the system elements are very relevant in ensuring that product development is successful within your organization.

I’m interested in hearing if you think one system element is more important than the other in product development.

In addition,  one of our partners, Therese Graff will be part of a panel at The University of Chicago at Booth School of Business on February 6, 2016.  The panel topic: Day in the Life of Leaders in Healthcare Innovation