Steve Green, head of design at Oxford Product Design, explores ways of maximising the chances of commercial success in technology-led product development.

When it comes to the commercial success of a technology-led product, there are a number of factors that come into play along the development journey. Have the regulatory requirements been met? Can the design be produced at a viable cost? Is it possible to ensure the quality of the manufacturing process? The list goes on.

Some of these factors can be foreseen, mitigated and controlled. Others must be discovered by taking what one believes to be the right path and allowing for the evolution of the original idea as new insights are gained. From experience, the most important factor is often the way product development begins.

Technological innovation most frequently emerges from academia. Whether in a university or a commercial research lab, it’s arguable that the most revolutionary thinking comes from those exploring in the pursuit of knowledge. As technology becomes ever more complex, it’s only natural that it’s the people most able to invest the time and effort into diving deep into an idea that make the breakthroughs which lead to the products of the future.

In the current age of spinouts and start-ups, ideas can be financed, and teams assembled in no time at all. But one of the challenges with projects that begin this way is that the product vision is often led by the exciting new technology, rather than by the needs of the user.

So, we’re at square one: new technology discovered. On to step two: product development, right? In fact, in the long run, it can be more valuable to take a step back from square one and look at the ‘why?’ that sits behind the new technology.

Consider this - why did you buy the last product you purchased? Assuming it wasn’t a piece of art, you most likely bought the product primarily for the solution it provides to a problem you have. Like you, most consumers will base their purchasing decision on a combination of what a product allows them to achieve and the emotions they feel as a result of that achievement.

Rather than progressing to step two at this point, consider going back to square zero. Below are some of the most valuable ways we know of gaining insights that will give your technology-led product the best chance of commercial success.

Stakeholder Analysis

It’s often not enough to consider the needs of the product’s end user alone. In some cases, the person making the purchasing decision is not the end user of the product. There may be multiple users across different applications, or an additional stakeholder that is responsible for the maintenance of the device. Exploring a broad view of your product’s different stakeholders will ensure no critical insight is missed.

User Personas

Identifying stakeholders is one thing; understanding them is quite another. Taking the time to define the needs, responsibilities, pain points and other attributes of the stakeholders upfront allows you to capture a well-rounded set of user requirements. Note: it’s important to identify what is known versus what is assumed at this stage.

User/Task/Environment Analysis

In addition to the stakeholder perspective, it’s worth investing the time to investigate the user’s workflow. Outlining each step of their process, from setup to maintenance, will help to further refine the user requirements and identify any scope for further innovation that hasn’t yet been explored.

User Requirements Specification

Not technical or product requirements, but user-focused requirements. These will form a list of objectives that the product should achieve to ensure success. For example, ’the device should use a 400mAh battery’ is not a user requirement, but ‘four hours of runtime are needed between charges’ is. These requirements should express the ‘why’ of quantifiable technical requirements.

Investing the time in this service-focused approach is key to ensuring the completeness of your requirements specification, and helps build an efficient development plan, which ultimately increases the likelihood of success. The resulting documentation also serves as a useful aid for onboarding new team members along the development journey and helps keep efforts aligned. Not to mention its invaluable input for your quality plan. As such, it’s important that this information is readily available and updated as new learnings are discovered.

To learn more about how OPD can help with your project, check out our capabilities.