The Product Development Process - Step 3 - Planning

The Product Development ProcessThis is a series of short articles as an overview and a simple guide, for how new products come to market. This article is Step 3, Product Planning for The Product Development Process.

Step 3  -  Gathering Information & Product Planning

Product Planning
Gather Information
Product Planning

To enhance the Requirements List of Step 2, you will need some specific outside information.  Typically, product planning includes a Patent Search, some Market Research and a Business Plan are appropriate.

You may have no intention of patenting a new widget, but you really need to know if someone else already has.  There are a lot of patents for great products where the inventor didn't ever take it to market.

I believe many abandoned patents come from not understanding the product development process and missing product planning - which is part of the stimuli in writing this article.

Patent Searches

There are a few different ways to get a patent search done.  You can do it yourself - at the library or on-line.  and  are a pretty good online sources.  Or you can hire someone to do the search for you.

Note:  I strongly suggest avoiding "Invention Centers" - as most are in business to exploit inventors and their wallets.  See more detail below, and read this article about the Vultures circling around Patents.

Perhaps the best source for patent searches and advise - though they can be expensive - are patent attorneys.  They won't develop your invention, but they can do a thorough search and can give better advice on Patentability and Infringement.  After all, a patent is only good if you can defend it.

If patents are part of your scope, definitely give all of this some serious space in your product planning.

Protecting Your Idea

A few years ago, the Hewlett Packard website had a great article titled  Patents: Protecting your big idea  that shed some good light on the types and processes for protecting intellectual property.  We have reprinted that article, with permission.

Also, at Synthesis we have written on this topic a few times:  Read about  When to Patent.

Don't rush off to get a patent first thing as that is usually a waste of money.  Make the business plan around a patent you might expect, then develop the product.  When the patent comes, it will cover all of the latest product enhancements.

So many times I have seen a cool invention change during development.  Newer ideas and better implementations, then if they patented it early, they have to do it again to cover the real product.  Huge waste of time and money.  This is one of the key points of product planning.

Many patent attorneys have information available to the public . . . like the "Frequently Asked Questions about Patent Law".  Find them, and read.

A Note About "Invention Centers"

You have seen them.  They come by many names.  They often advertise on TV or in the mail.  If you submit a patent application you are almost certain to get a letter from one or many saying how wonderful your idea is, and how they can make you rich.

Oh, the horror stories I have heard!  Stories of rip-off, and tales of rose petal paths.  Inventors, Beware!

The appeal is a very real desire to be successful with an invention.  And most inventors need a guide in the process - for knowledge and information - because the path to success is not well marked.  The trouble comes when an "Invention Center" wants to be paid in advance, or when they want control . . . for whatever.  Remember:  The path is not well marked, because it is different for each idea.

That is exactly the reason for product planning.  Get help, but stay in control of your own product development.

Before trying one of these invention centers:

  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Challenge promises.
  • Insist on being integrally involved in decisions.
  • Question their ability to make the product, and to market it.
  • Be willing to back-off if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don't give them control of your invention unless THEY pay for it.

There are plenty of people out there ready to take your money and your ideas.  Be cautious.  Look carefully at the source.  Be careful with what you are willing to give them.  The more they promise (especially without a careful evaluation of your idea) the more cautious you should be.

Note:  Don't get the wrong idea . . . there are good places for help, but most of the good ones will not "do it all", and they will not make a lot of promises.  Most of all, they won't promise how much you can make, or how many you will sell.


If you are going to be successful with a new product, you will have to market it.  That is just the reality.  Of course, marketing spans a bunch of areas that I am not really qualified to expound on, but do the research, and make it a part of your product planning.

Marketing usually needs to be very specific - and it takes someone who knows the niche.  Most "invention centers" have someone that generically does marketing, but usually DOES NOT have in-depth experience in more than a couple specific market areas.  For instance, a "sports gadget" is not really a sports gadget.  It might be an Elementary School gym gadget, or an outdoorsman's gadget, or a team sports gadget, or a personal training gadget.  Every one of those areas require a different marketing approach.

Market Research

Depending on the scope of the project, market research is usually a good idea.  This should include things like competitive analysis, market availability, costs of getting product to the consumer, etc..  Product planning must also include justification (in hard numbers) as to why your product is able to penetrate the market, and how fast.

How many times have I seen great ideas pushed forward in development when something really similar has failed - maybe even recently.  You darn well better have a good understanding of what is / has been attempted, and why they failed.  You may succeed where someone else did not, but you better have a super good understanding before spending a lot of money and stepping out of that door.

Since I am not an expert in marketing or market research, I will leave this topic to others.

>>>    Open invitation:  Submit an article about  Market Research,  and if I approve it, I will add the article and an acknowledgement here with a link to your site.    <<<

Gathering Outside Information  (our Speaker Example):

For the speakers, a quick Patent Search was done just to be sure of no infringement, but a patent is unnecessary because the goal is to build a great set of speakers, not to displace Bose or Onkyo.

The Market Research was really done before the project began.  The motivation for speakers was a lack of availability in the market.  In this case, market research came early and defined many of the requirements.  Additionally, the goal is not to sell millions, just to make a good speaker without the high cost.  Further, the design is for a do-it-yourself hobbyist with reasonable skill in the shop.

The simple market research said there are people who want such a product.  However, reality shows the speaker plans are one of our lowest selling.  Market research did not predict most do-it-yourselfers won't spend a penny on something they think is easy - and most have taken apart speakers so it looks easy.  Whether it is or not is immaterial.  Better market research / better product planning would have shown - regardless of how good the plans are - won't sell well because the price is higher than $0.

Business Plan

The summation of gathering information combined with the product specification and a healthy dose of common sense will help in writing a Business Plan.  The product planning (with real numbers - don't cheat here, or you are cheating yourself) must justify continuing effort and money for the project.  Get help if you don't know what I mean.  Try SCORE if you have a chapter in your area.  They can be very helpful, and this is right up their alley.

Sadly, when product planning is skipped (or over optimistically done), time and money are usually wasted.  It is OK to determine that the product can't make money, and it is much better to do it now than later.  Take some time and develop the business plan.  Get some help if you need it - I did (with another company).  It is important, and very eye-opening.

As far as what kind of plan, options are available.  You can certainly do a traditional plan, or something a little more current like a "Business Model Canvas".

>>>    Open invitation:  Submit an article about  How to Write a Business Plan  (detailed), and if I approve it, I will add the article and an acknowledgement here with a link to your site.    <<<

Concluding Thoughts . . .

Make good, solid, realistic plans based on good information.  Great things that come from taking a hard look at all the above product planning items are:

  • First - A revised and improved product specification (Step 2).
  • Second - The start of intellectual property protection for your idea - and knowing you are not treading on someone else.
  • Third - A sound business plan as a road map for success.
  • Fourth - A good foundation for explaining why your product will succeed - if just for peace of mind to have something concrete to support your feelings.  This is also a great foundation in seeking investment money if you need it.
The more you know, the easier it is to succeed . . .
. . . because Knowledge Empowers Success.

Continue Product DesignNext Up:  Step 4  -  The Design Phase

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