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Adventures in Product Development: Avoiding the Six Major Pitfalls

It’s a pleasure and pain salad. It’s a game of risk and reward. It’s an adventure. What drives successful entrepreneurs and product developers? After nearly 20 years in this business, I opine it’s the adventure. Those who imagine and develop new products stand alongside the most daring mountain climbers, hands held high, when life asks, “Who’d like an extra heaping helping of adventure?”

Product Development is an Adventure, Replete with Risk and Reward

It’s a pleasure and pain salad.
It’s a game of risk and reward.
It’s an adventure.

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What drives successful entrepreneurs and product developers? After nearly 20 years in this business, I opine it’s the adventure. Those who imagine and develop new products stand alongside the most daring mountain climbers, hands held high, when life asks, “Who’d like an extra heaping helping of adventure?”

Successful entrepreneurs, however, are not the inveterate risk-takers they are commonly thought to be. In fact, I’ve found the most successful product folks to be quite risk-aware. They understand that risk is adventure’s constant companion. But while thriving on the excitement of adventure, they set themselves up for success by constantly assessing and mitigating the many risks.

In the quest to create the “next big thing,” there are six major game-ending pitfalls:

  • Technological Risk–It violates the laws of physics.
  • IP Risk–Your idea steps on somebody’s toes.
  • Market Risk–Nobody wants it.
  • Cost Risk –It costs too much to ever make a profit.
  • Knock-off Risk–Mr. MeToo does the same thing; and they do it cheaper.
  • Competitive Risk–Somebody beats you to it

The trick to surviving the adventure and arriving at the pinnacle of market success is actively managing risk every step of the way. To assess technological risk, engineers are engaged early on for feasibility testing and “proof of concept” work. To eliminate IP risk, patent attorneys and engineers survey the existing IP landscape to make sure there is ample room to innovate. Market risk is mitigated by researchers and designers who develop deep understanding of user needs, wants, and aspirations, all to ensure that final product will connect with users and have traction in the market.

Minimizing cost can be as tricky as a rope crossing. To bridge the gap between concept and reality, it’s vital to focus on the destination (the design intent) while balancing and optimizing both the experience and manufacturing costs. Knock-off risk can be averted with the protection afforded by patentable design and technological solutions. Competitive risk is limited by working with experienced teams who know which paths will get you there faster, and which shortcuts are too treacherous to pursue.

The right team will be the sun-baked Sherpas who lay down ladders to help you negotiate the deep crevasses that can swallow up good ideas at critical interfaces and transitions. The most integrated teams can not only smooth the terrain on your route to market success, they can help you with the bigger questions–like making sure you’re climbing the right mountain.

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With all these challenges, it’s no wonder we de-risk wherever possible. It’s the excitement of the pursuit, the satisfaction of conquering tough problems, and the promise of future reward that motivates entrepreneurs. Without the inherent adventure and challenge of doing something new, visionary leaders wouldn’t pursue their ideas. Scientists, designers, engineers, researchers, and others wouldn’t enlist in the quest. And the good-idea bus would have an empty gas tank.

I, for one, count myself lucky to be a part of the adventure.

Image by originallittlehellraiser.

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About the author

Willy Stiggelbout is the founder and coach of Carbon Design Group in Seattle, Washington. After spending too many years at Stanford and the University of Washington, Willy developed printers for HP, yacht sails for North Sails, and aircraft electronics for most of the world’s premier airframe makers.

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