Navigating the “Fuzzy” Front End of Product Innovation

Posted on 
November 12, 2020
Carrie Stucky
Sr. Director, Finance Operations, Specright

One of the greatest inhibitors to product development is the inability to capture and track ideas. Thomas Edison said it himself, “The lightbulb is an invention with 1,000 steps.” During the early stages of product development, Edison tried 1,000 different ideas before finding one that worked. But this shouldn’t mean it takes 1,000 steps to develop products every time.

This is where product development processes are failing us today. Companies are great at managing everything that comes after ideation with PLMs. But truth be told, there’s so much valuable data lost without processes and systems in place to capture ideation. When we lose the front end of product development, we lose data on undeveloped ideas, risk speed to market, and impede innovation.

Where Ideation Ends and PLMs Begin

PLMs are software systems that track a product throughout its lifecycle, hence the acronym: Product Lifecycle Management. Data points PLMs capture include: development/manufacturing, rollout, growth, stability, and decline. PLMs are great for bringing a refined product idea to market, but weren’t designed to make idea libraries.

Many ideas live in brainstorms and white boarding sessions without an effective way to capture them.

What’s a Product Innovation Library?

A product innovation library consists of those 1,000 attempts Edison made to make the lightbulb. The point of this is to support innovation - it’s not that those ideas don’t work at all. It means that those ideas didn’t work for the product Edison wanted to create. This is true for product development at many companies. After all, only about 6% of ideas turn into products. So that means about 96% of product ideas either disappear due to lack of documentation or poor management, keeping companies from capitalizing on those ideas later on.Thomas Edison had a library of over 1,000 ideas. I’d bet that hiding in at least one of them is the foundation for another amazing product.

The Benefits of Having an Product Innovation Library

There’s tons of benefits to building a digital product idea library. We picked the top 3 we’ve seen help companies drive innovation.

1. Constant Tracking So You Can Build Your Idea Gold Mine

Tracking is key to lean product development cycles. Without tracking, there’s no foundation for your product innovation library. It’s crucial to capture ideas that don't work or the market isn’t ready for yet, as these could become some of your best sellers a few years down the line.

2. Visibility Into the “Been There, Done That”

With tracking in place, you have greater visibility into ideation. Visibility keeps companies from reinventing the wheel every time there’s a new product idea. Before visibility into ideation, you couldn’t see all the ideas you’ve had, what worked, what didn’t, and why. This results in time wasted re-exploring ideas you already had but didn't capture. Or worse, finding a need in the market one of your past ideas filled but not having the data to be actionable.

In today’s world where tribal knowledge is impacting companies across all industries, having a historical record helps prevent brain drain when employees retire or leave.

3. Speed-To-Market in a Two-Day Shipping World

In today’s world, speed-to-market is king and consumers seek instant gratification. As a result, product development teams must be agile enough to keep up. Having a digital archive of all your ideas keeps you from having to start from square one every time you want to bring a new product to market.

How Specright Drives Product Innovation

We get asked a lot if Specright is a PLM or can replace a PLM. The short answer? No. Each system takes a fundamentally different approach to product development (to learn more about these differences, check out this post). But the systems are complementary and can enable greater usability of one another.

Both systems streamline processes, save money and resources, and enable data-driven decisions. But, Specright is designed to capture the granular data that goes into a product. Specright enables more collaborative and streamlined development processes, as well as optimization of the data that goes into a PLM.

Specright is designed for more than just product engineers. We built Specright so companies could make things, easier. And to us, that means managing product development from start to finish. To learn more about why Specification Data Management is the future of lean product development, watch our webinar: How to Build a Digital Library of Your Product Specs to Drive Innovation.


Carrie Stucky

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