Maximizing the impact of market intelligence throughout the product lifecycle requires effective communication with stakeholders within the development process.
In Part I of our Maximizing the Impact of Market Intel series, we explained how insights can help OEMs detect signals of change, understand who may win and why those winners are set up for success, and make strategic choices based on these findings.
Strategic thinkers pride themselves on helping to guide stakeholders on the product development process, alerting them to specifics of their competitive situation and informing decisions that maximize a new product’s market potential. But it’s frustrating when their findings are shared only when they serve to support product development decisions that are already being made.
One critical factor keeping their strategic updates from being a more essential part of a company’s decision-making process is the inability to tailor the message to the needs of the different stakeholders within the product development process.
How do we minimize the “failures to communicate” occurring with different internal stakeholders that can alter a new product’s fate? Here are three ways to increase the effectiveness of communicating and allow market, competitive, and customer findings to have a greater positive impact on the product development process.
Get to know the “designers and deciders” inside and outside their role in the process
Fine-tuning our sense of what’s valuable, actionable information for our internal peers is actually quite simple: Know your audience! Asking good questions is not only key to providing useful intelligence, but it’s also essential to establishing trust and understanding between audiences who might be looking at the problem from different perspectives.
Countless insights have failed to gain traction because the recipients didn’t trust the people handing them the information. Product development is such a personal, passionate process for the people involved that understanding their motivations can help build trust needed to foster communication and consideration. This trust helps increase the effectiveness and buy-in of those who will have to consider the product’s viability and suitability for market.
So stop asking colleagues penetrating functional questions up front. Instead, choose questions about why they chose their particular role and what excites them about product development. Try to understand not just what matters to them, but why.
Invite colleagues from other groups to have a beer or lunch. Spend time on the shop floor. Without taking the time to have those conversations and gain that respect, colleagues are less likely to listen to you.
Integrate findings updates into the stage-gate process
Several functional groups usually contribute to a product plan and are tasked with building out an innovative concept. But once the plan is put into action, its execution can fall into the development black hole for a year or longer, until a viable product has been produced.
Working updated intelligence into stage-gates inside the development “black box” is an especially crucial step toward ensuring the company emerges on the other side with a product that satisfies user and market needs.
Does the product being developed still match the value prop? Does it still meet the competitive need? When does the combination of trade-offs become deadly to the product’s chances for attaining significant market share? OEMs need sophisticated strategic marketing, financial, and intelligence professionals to partner on these ongoing analyses as a product progresses in its development. More importantly, a company needs to build these reality checks into the stage-gate process to ensure the customer need that necessitated the product design is still being met by the actual designed product.
The makeup of cross-functional teams of leaders that perform stage-gate reviews is, ideally, consistent throughout the development process. Strategic teams that can provide this ongoing input need a permanent seat at that table. They can attain that seat through simultaneously building relationships with the stage-gate team members and the development team leaders.
Having the ears of both is complementary; strategic thinkers will be more effective in their relationships and more incisive with their input for the internal R&D team if they can explain what will calm an executive’s concerns and secure their sign-off on the creative team’s ideas. But how does one leverage that mutual trust into meaningful changes to a new product’s development after that seat at the table is secured?
Bring the perspective that speaks truth to (different kinds of) power
Once a greater degree of trust and a place on the stage-gate team is obtained, the strategic thinker’s role is to confidently ensure leaders in the room understand and are fully briefed on the greatest risks to the new product’s success. This person and his or her team must have the ability to effectively communicate with every functional group throughout the product development process. They must also be able to understand what “success” looks like to each of these groups to ensure that insights and market intelligence deliver against these metrics.
Each of the three main phases of the product development process includes functional groups that bring different perspectives, concerns, and problem-solving methods to the process. For instance, the innovators in R&D and product management that roadmap the product’s path to success are, generally speaking, more open and non-linear thinkers. These groups appreciate when peers respect their responsibility to keep the user and their needs front and center as they design the new product.
Understanding the unique perspectives of each of these groups is crucial to providing them with actionable updates. Without a strong reminder of the new product’s competitive frame, organizational inertia can creep into the hand-offs between development stages. This inertia can carry a company forward when it really should be looping back. Tailor these updates to speak to the product development leaders’ particular thought processes to show these stakeholders a clear path forward in the “truth” you share.
Putting it all together
The product development process is complex, and it’s impossible for internal stakeholders to know all the things they need to know all the time. OEMs will have blind spots and it’s of critical importance they have teams to shine the light on those dark corners that others can’t—or don’t want to–investigate.
Developing strong and trusting relationships between people who can help uncover and make use of the deep expertise at their disposal is critical. Using the very techniques designed to know the customer and to know the market can help to create material in a context your stakeholders will understand, appreciate, and take to heart.