Product development and innovation is a journey every business needs to go on, but without the right leadership, resources and systems in place it can feel like a minefield. Geoff Crossley, Manufacturing Advisor, gives his tips for successfully introducing a new product and recognising the need for innovation in any business.
Innovation can come in many forms, but at some point it will include introducing a new or improved process or product to your portfolio. This can be a daunting prospect for many SMEs, not least because it requires time and resources - things which often feel like rare commodities that are too valuable to be squandered by ‘daydreaming’ about the future. But there are few better ways to spend time than raising your head above the parapet and doing a bit of future gazing.
Where are you going next? What does the future of your market look like? How future-proof are your products? These are the questions worth asking yourself on a regular basis, if you are keen to invest in your company’s future.
Sometimes new products are developed to keep up with the latest cutting-edge technology and this may require specialist expertise. Take Genlab Ltd, for example, a Cheshire manufacturer which makes industrial ovens. They identified an opportunity to integrate Internet of Things technology into their product, so we helped them to procure the expertise of a Specialist Engineer to aid the design and development process.
But introducing a new product doesn’t have to mean next-generation gadgetry. Look at Neon Creations, a manufacturer of neon signs in Bolton. They recognised that time spent on bespoke artwork projects would be more profitable than time spent on their mainstay - producing signs for bars and restaurants. By reorganising their workforce, they were able to refocus on producing one-off, higher-value products, and created space to grow.
So how do you get yourself on the right track to introducing the right product? Here are my main tips:
1. Lead from the front
First and foremost, you must want innovation for it to happen. This means showing leadership by committing to stepping back from the day-to-day once in a while to focus on the future and allowing relevant members of your team to do the same.
2. Define your process
Identify your commitments right from the beginning. How many hours a week do you need to invest in looking at new products? Who else needs to be part of the conversation, and when? What other resources are needed for R&D? Define these principles and stick to them, every week.
3. Never take your eye off the market
It may sound simple, but market understanding is the one element of innovation that is neglected by SMEs more than any other. Getting caught up with a brilliant product idea and then forgetting to do your market research is an easy mistake to make.Before you introduce a new product, make sure you can answer these questions:
• Who will buy it?
• Why will people buy it?
• How many will it sell?
• How will you access the market?
4. Use systems and tools to help
There are a host of systems and tools out there to help you manage your journey, and some will be more relevant to you than others. We've documented many of them for you in our manufacturing factsheet portal.
I often use the BCG 'Growth-Share Matrix', which helps to map product life cycles from launch to the decision to phase out a product:
1. Problem Child (low market share, high growth)
2. Star (high market share, high growth)
3. Cash Cow (high market share, low growth)
4. Dog (low market share, low growth)
Ideally, you need to regularly assess where each of your products sit on the matrix to focus efforts, drop lost causes or research new lines.
Systems like the Stage Gate Process can help to manage the journey by prompting you to make decisions at key points as your product develops. This is particularly useful if you’re developing a complex product.
The most important thing is to find the systems and tools that work best for you. The added benefit of following a set process is that it helps you to document your efforts, which is particularly useful when reclaiming R&D tax credits for your work on innovation.
If you would like to access fully funded support to enable your business to grow join our Manufacturing Network today.
Geoff Crossley, Senior Manufacturing Advisor
Geoff is a highly skilled manufacturing specialist, practiced in supporting manufacturing businesses to implement lean tools and techniques which will increase efficiency. Geoff is passionate about helping manufacturers work smarter and to do more with less.
With a background in engineering design and experience running a successful business, Geoff is skilled at strategic planning, developing sales and marketing strategies to generate new customers and delivering sustained profitability.
To view Geoff's full profile including technical capabilities and industry experience, please click here.