Secrets of Time To Market: The 80% Rule
Getting your new product to market FAST is important, especially so in electronics:
- Competitors may come out with a similar product.
- Stop the burn and start generating income sooner rather than later
- Get real market feedback.
- The chipset around which your product is designed may be replaced by a better one.
- Components may become EOL (End Of Life).
On the other hand there are quite a few reasons why budding entrepreneurs and even seasoned product managers delay market introduction:
- A potential client mentioned that he would like to see feature XYZ added.
- New technology has become available which would make the product better.
- "I was laying in bed last night and thought that it would be nice to ..."
- "First impressions count, our first product should be perfect, let's improve it a bit further."
A firm deadline
The only way to prevent this kind of "scope creep" from happening is to set a strict deadline on when the product should be ready. The leading trade show in your field is probably your best bet. This also makes it clear that the date is real, and not just some artificial (unrealistic?) target date, and thus galvanizes everybody in the design to manufacturing chain to make it happen. Don't just take my word for it, extensive research into 80 NPD programs showed that having a firm deadline was a prerequisite to success. See Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch by Robert G. Cooper.
Accept the 80% rule
Having such a firm date also makes it easier for everybody to accept that the new device cannot meet 100% of the wishes of 100% of all people, for most new products being "good enough" for 80% of the people is all that is needed in terms of functionality, the rest of a products success depends on the promotion, even the proverbial sliced bread went unnoticed for 15 years because it was not promoted right, see this great talk by marketing guru Seth Godin on YouTube.
Call it myopia but often those closest to the product's development are the ones who can't see its flaws, but the funny thing is that no matter how much prototyping and testing you do you will not be nearly as creative as the people who buy your product. On the first iPhone 4 users reported dropped signals when the phone was held in a very specific way, "the grip of death" where fingers blocked the antenna.
At the end of the day, it will be your customers who provide you with valuable feedback on which features really matter and provide the added value they are willing to pay for. Getting real market feedback as quick as possible is more important than trying to score a perfect 10 in the lab.
During the development of the Qbe, one of the world's first tablet PCs the client specified for the biggest screen, the longest battery life and the classiest magnesium housing. Unfortunately market reaction showed that this super spec'ed unit was too big, too heavy, and importantly too pricy for most people
So even companies as sophisticated as Apple do not get their 100% right the very first time (and we're talking iPhone 4 here...), but luckily these days the tech savvy consumers who opt to be the first on the block to have a new product tend to be fairly forgiving and in most cases, even expect some degree of problems to come with the privilege of being a pioneering user. With a generous return policy you should be able to keep these lead users happy, and if you prove to them that you are genuinely using their input in the next revision of the product you can make these fans so enthusiastic that they become your vir(tu)al sales force.
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