New Product Development Requires Fresh Perspective on ‘Creative’ and ‘Structure’

New product development can be a misunderstood concept.

Is the “product” actually a product? Or can it be a process? Is it a mandate from the C Suite? Or can it be a suggestion from the factory floor, the retail showroom, the Idea Box or a customer tip?

How wide is your idea funnel? And how do you treat ideas once they land in the organization’s “idea hopper”? (see the blog post on “Innovation and Idea Management” to discover how to handle in-bound ideas).

Answer these questions, and you’ve placed your finger on the pulse of how your organization embraces new product development .

NPD best blossoms in that place where creativity commingles with structure – where fresh thinking is fostered in a nursery of structured liberation. Think of ideas as if they were offspring: They should be free to roam and explore, but they need fences – structure – in their lives to ensure safe maturation in a controlled environment.

The same is true for NPD – regardless of whether products are widgets for sale or processes envisioned to improve the organization. For the concepts of “creative” and “structured” are not mutually exclusive. Creativity is the thinking that goes behind the ideation of a new product. Structure helps define and determine the vetting process that NPD must go through.

Keep in mind that each step of this entire process has distinct “sub-steps,” if you will, that must be accomplished even before a Go / No-Go decision can be made. These often are done together – and simultaneously. This vetting and completed steps will than determine which products pass the Go / No-Go decision – regardless of the source or even the potential “profitability” of any new product.

These are important distinctions. When creating a foundational NPD process, all ideas should be welcomed from all sources – from the customer service rep to the C-level exec. No short-shrift or free pass here. If the structured vetting process, one established by the Chief Idea Officer and his/her team, gives a Thumbs-Down to a new idea, the source should not spin that determination.

Regardless of whether a product is seen as a revenue source, or just an internal concept or process, that, too, should have little impact on a product’s viability or survivability in the organization. Good “products” don’t have to result in revenues; they can enhance processes, that in turn, can boost profitability.

As you’re pondering your NPD capabilities, consider whether your pipeline accommodate simultaneous multiple product development streams? A new, physical product for sale should not force a process-focused product to be shelved. This level of scalability ensures a wide “innovation highway” – one that is lean, adaptive and flexible, and can handle various products at the same time.

Finally, is your organization prepared to measure the results – not of the NP, but of the process itself? Do you have a system in place to gather, measure and share both the success and the stumbling blocks? Are you prepared to ask yourself, how did the process work?

The truth is, future success can be closely tied into past accomplishments – if you’re willing to ask the right questions, create the right environment, and learn along the way.

For more ideas read “Roberts Rules of Innovation” (Wiley) available in March 2010 or visit