Reading: Overview of the New-Product Development Process

Artist's sketch of random objects and gadgets.


There are probably as many varieties of new-product development systems as there are types of companies, but most of them share the same basic steps or stages—they are just executed in different ways. Below, we have divided the process into eight stages, grouped into three phases.  Many of the activities are performed repeatedly throughout the process, but they become more concrete as the product idea is refined and additional data are gathered. For example, at each stage of the process, the product team is asking, “Is this a viable product concept?” but the answers change as the product is refined and more market perspectives can be added to the evaluation.

Phase I: Generating and Screening Ideas Phase II: Developing New Products Phase III: Commercializing New Products
Stage 1: Generating New Product Ideas Stage 4: Business Case Analysis Stage 6: Test Marketing
Stage 2: Screening Product Ideas Stage 5: Technical and Marketing Development Stage 7: Launch
Stage 3: Concept Development and Testing

Stage 1: Generating New Product Ideas

Black ink drawings of clear lightbulbs in a circular pattern. The wires inside the lightbulbs form the word OPEN.

Generating new product ideas is a creative task that requires a particular way of thinking. Coming up with ideas is easy, but generating good ideas is another story. Companies use a range of internal and external sources to identify new product ideas. A SWOT analysis might suggest strengths in existing products that could be the basis for new products or market opportunities. Research might identify market and customer trends. A competitive analysis might expose a hole in the company’s product portfolio. Customer focus groups or the sales team might identify unmet customer needs. Many amazing products are also the result of lucky mistakes—product experiments that don’t meet the intended goal but have an unintended and interesting application. For example, 3M scientist Dr. Spencer Silver invented Post-It Notes in a failed experiment to create a super-strong adhesive.[1]

The key to the idea generation stage is to explore possibilities, knowing that most will not result in products that go to market.

Stage 2: Screening Product Ideas

The second stage of the product development process is idea screening. This is the first of many screening points. At this early stage much is not known about the product and its market opportunity. Still, product ideas that do not meet the organization’s objectives should be rejected at this stage. If a poor product idea is allowed to pass the screening stage, it wastes effort and money in later stages until it is abandoned. Even more serious is the possibility of screening out a worthwhile idea and missing a significant market opportunity. For this reason, this early screening stage allows many ideas to move forward that may not eventually go to market.

At this early stage, product ideas may simply be screened through some sort of internal rating process. Employees might rate the product ideas according to a set of criteria, for example; those with low scores are dropped and only the highest ranked products move forward.

Stage 3: Concept Development and Testing

Yellow circuit board sticker prototype

Today, it is increasingly common for companies to run some small concept test in a real marketing setting. The product concept is a synthesis or a description of a product idea that reflects the core element of the proposed product. Marketing tries to have the most accurate and detailed product concept possible in order to get accurate reactions from target buyers.  Those reactions can then be used to inform the final product, the marketing mix, and the business analysis.

New tools for technology and product development are available that support the rapid development of prototypes which can be tested with potential buyers. When concept testing can include an actual product prototype, the early test results are much more reliable. Concept testing helps companies avoid investing in bad ideas and at the same time helps them catch and keep outstanding product ideas. 

Stage 4: Business Case Analysis

Before companies make a significant investment in a product’s development, they need to be sure that it will bring a sufficient return.

The company seeks to answer such questions as the following:

  1. What is the market opportunity for this product?
  2. What are the costs to bring the product to market?
  3. What are the costs through the stages of the product life cycle?
  4. Where does the product fit in the product portfolio and how will it impact existing product sales?
  5. How does this product impact the brand?
  6. How does this product impact other corporate objectives such as social responsibility?

The marketing budget and costs are one element of the business analysis, but the full scope of the analysis includes all revenues, costs, and other business impacts of the product.

Stage 5: Technical and Marketing Development

Artist rendering of a scientist looking through a microscope in a lab filled with flasks and equipment. The scientist's body is green-colored; his brain and bones are shown in black.

A product that has passed the screening and business analysis stages is ready for technical and marketing development. Technical development processes vary greatly according to the type of product. For a product with a complex manufacturing process, there is a lab phase to create specifications and an equally complex phase to develop the manufacturing process. For a service offering, there may be new processes requiring new employee skills or the delivery of new equipment. These are only two of many possible examples, but in every case the company must define both what the product is and how it will be delivered to many buyers.

While the technical development is under way, the marketing department is testing the early product with target customers to find the best possible marketing mix. Ideally, marketing uses product prototypes or early production models to understand and capture customer responses and to identify how best to present the product to the market. Through this process, product marketing must prepare a complete marketing plan—one that starts with a statement of objectives and ends with a coherent picture of product distribution, promotion, and pricing integrated into a plan of marketing action.

Stage 6: Test Marketing and Validation

Test marketing is the final stage before commercialization; the objective is to test all the variables in the marketing plan including elements of the product. Test marketing represents an actual launching of the total marketing program. However, it is done on a limited basis.

Initial product testing and test marketing are not the same. Product testing is totally initiated by the producer: he or she selects the sample of people, provides the consumer with the test product, and offers the consumer some sort of incentive to participate.

Test marketing, on the other hand, is distinguished by the fact that the test group represents the full market, the consumer must make a purchase decision and pay for the product, and the test product must compete with the existing products in the actual marketing environment. For these and other reasons, a market test is an accurate simulation of the broader market and serves as a method for reducing risk. It should enhance the new product’s probability of success and allow for final adjustment in the marketing mix before the product is introduced on a large scale.

Stage 7: Launch

Finally, the product arrives at the commercial launch stage. The marketing mix comes together to introduce the product to the market. This stage marks the beginning of the product life cycle.

Stage 8: Evaluation

The launch does not in any way signal the end of the marketing role for the product. To the contrary, after launch the marketer finally has real market data about how the product performs in the wild, outside the test environment. These market data initiate a new cycle of idea generation about improvements and adjustments that can be made to all elements of the marketing mix.