The Product Development Process – Step 3 – Planning

The Product Development Process

Product Planning

Gather Information
&
Product Planning

Step 3  –  Gathering Information & Product Planning

To enhance the Requirements List of Step 2, some specific outside information is needed.  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 it take to market.

I believe many abandoned patents come from not understanding the product development process — 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.  www.uspto.gov  and  www.FreePatentsOnline.com  are a pretty good on-line 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 comments below.

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 it can be defended.

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’ve 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 — which 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” from Gould & Whitley at  http://www.gouldwhitley.com/ > Patent Law.  This one also tell about prices.

A Note About “Invention Centers”

You’ve seen them.  They come by many names.  They often advertise on TV or in the mail.  If you submit a patent application you’re 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’ve heard!  Stories about being ripped-off, and tales of rose pedal 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 do it yourself.

Before trying one of these:

  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Challenge promises.
  • Insist on being integrally involved in decisions.
  • Question their ability to market 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.

Marketing.

Being successful requires marketing — which usually needs to be very specific — and it takes someone who knows that 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” isn’t 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.

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

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..  It must also include justification (in hard numbers) as to why your product will be 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 be able to succeed where someone else didn’t, but you better have a super good understanding before stepping out of that door.

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

>>>    Open invitation: Submit an article about Market Research, and if I approve it, I’ll 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 patenting was determined as unnecessary because the goal was 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 designing such speakers was the lack of availability in the market.  In this case, the market research came early and defined many of the requirements.  Things like size, power, impedance, drivers, etc. were all defined.  Additionally, the goal was not to sell millions, just to make a good speaker without the high cost.  Further, the design was to be built by a do-it-yourself hobbyist with reasonable skill in the shop.

The simple market research said there were people that wanted such a product.  But, it should be noted that the speaker plans are one of our lower selling products.  Market research did not predict that most do-it-yourselfers won’t spend a penny on something they think is easy — and most have taken apart speakers so they think it is easy enough to build a box and put drivers in it.  Whether it is or not is immaterial.  Better market research would have shown the speaker plans — regardless of how good they are — won’t sell well because they have a price 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 plan (with real numbers – don’t cheat here or you’ll be cheating yourself) must justify continued effort and money spent on the project.

Sadly, when this step is skipped (or over optimistically done), time and money are usually wasted.  It’s OK to determine that the product can’t make money, and it’s 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.  It’s important, and it’s 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’ll add the article and an acknowledgement here with a link to your site.    <<<
Concluding Thoughts . . .

Make sound, realistic plans based on good information.  Great things that come from taking a hard look at the above 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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The Product Development Process