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Taking Product Development To A New Level – Download “20 Top Tools for Managing the Product Development Process”


June 11, 2014

One of the most well-attended seminars at the 2014 Snow Show was “20 Top Tools for Managing the Product Development Process,” presented by Pete Frickland, founder and principal of Concurrent Product Development LLC.

Frickland’s 40 years of experience in the field includes 20 years at Cascade Designs, where he oversaw the integrated growth and development of several well-known product-driven outdoor brands, including Therm-a-Rest, MSR, SealLine, Platypus, PackTowl and Tracks.

Over the years, Frickland said he’s learned many ways to simplify the management of product development, or to make the process more effective by using the data in new ways. “The seminar was a survey of simple tools for managing product development that everyone could find something interesting in. Many of them are new to the outdoor industry and could be very helpful to a lot of manufacturers,” he said.

 You can download the seminar slide deck here. And to see Pete’s own description of his seminar, and to get a brief overview of each slide in the download, read on:

 “20 Top Tools for Managing the Product Development Process” (presented at SIA on February 1, 2014 by Pete Frickland, Concurrent Product Development LLC)

Whether doing contract manufacturing based on client requirements, or developing proprietary products based on latent consumer needs, successful product development follows a process that has been proven effective across a wide range of technologies and markets. Adapting that process to specific manufacturers may be straightforward, but choosing the correct tools to use to execute the process can be confusing.

The presentation provided an adaptable framework for organizing, planning and controlling the product development effort along with a list of recommended, proven tools, methods and approaches that can be used to ensure proper execution of critical elements of the process.

Each of these tools discussed could be used independently or they could be used to assemble a system that is customized to the company’s specific product development management needs. All of the tools use commonly available inexpensive software that is already on most desktop systems.

The tools were grouped and presented in five categories: Portfolio, Project, Planning, Execution, and Review.

Thumbnail summaries of some of the tools that were discussed are:

 11 Non-financial portfolio analysis is used to sift and prioritize candidate projects into a portfolio that balances risk and reward. The method uses criteria that are customized to the nature of the company. The nature of the tool allows its use early in the development process before solid cost, price, demand and other quantitative information has been developed. 
 2 The multi-year planning tool is used to communicate which categories receive what levels of attention during different rollout seasons or years. This helps ensure that the company always has something new to present to buyers in each category while balancing and pacing the supporting development effort. 
 3 A multi-step Phase-Gate process organizes product development activities into logical chunks of activities that are easy to understand, communicate, and track. Each stage is separated by a review gate that assures the projects are on-track and consistent with user needs and company expectations. 
 4 A process checklist defines the typical steps done during product development process, who owns those steps and when they are to be completed. The checklist  standardizes and clarifies the development process. This saves time, increases the quality of execution, and provides a framework for developing and organizing the necessary supporting tools. 
 5 The deliverables roadmap is a visual tool that is used to communicate the product development process, identify specific hard deliverables that are needed, and clearly show who owns those deliverables. This is an excellent tool for increasing the accountability of key contributors and for training new staff. 
 6 Visual control boards integrate the process checklist, phase-gate structure, the deliverables roadmap and the company-specific development calendar into a single, easy-to-use, project management tool. Specific iconography is used to identify and highlight projects that will have issues getting to market on time as well as development process elements that need improvement. 
 7 Standard forms and tools for the different elements of the product development process save time (new forms and tools are not re-created each season) and increase the thoroughness and consistency of work performed. 
8 360 activity mapping is a tool that helps identify and communicate targeted user needs by mapping their activities, where the activities take place and the problems that are experienced along the way. It is an excellent tool for guiding design toward new and innovative solutions. 
 9 User personas and user personal boards are used to develop and communicate specifically who our users are. This helps coordinate all arms of the creative effort (ideation, concept development, design, evaluation, packaging, messaging, etc.) 
10 The Product Summary is a design focus and communication tool. It clearly states what the product concept is (to direct the innovation effort) . . . and is not (to prevent design and scope drift).
 11  The products won’t sell themselves.  Packaging Requirements and Plans and Market Release Plans are two areas that are often underemphasized in product-focused companies. 
 12 Having an integrated plan toward Intellectual Property is more than establishing freedom to operate and submitting applications. The USPTO database is an excellent source for identifying licensable technology, potential acquisitions, monitoring competitor activity, and mining ideas and insights from patents in the public domain. 
13 Having a standard methodology for handling Business Case Analyses allows objective valuation of the various projects in the product development portfolio. The output is in terms and metrics familiar to owners and investors.
14 Min-Likely-Max is a tool that enables estimation of opportunities that are normally very difficult to estimate. Examples of its application include estimating the sales of a new line, the cost of changing contract vendors, or the potential value of pursuing a new market. 
15 Common cause analysis is a tool that allows a quick identification of common and reoccurring issues that are causing problems in the design, development, commercialization and launch of new products. It is used to focus process improvement efforts. 
16 The Innovation Matrix is a tool that provides insight as to how a company innovates (e.g., is it along tech/design lines or is it along new and extended markets). This can be used to consciously develop and pursue products and platforms with higher margins (vs. lower prices).
17 An innovation trend map quantifies and communicates how a company’s innovation is evolving . . . or not.

About the author

18Since the mid ‘70’s, Pete has been involved in developing new and improved products and driving them to market. Beginning with build-to-print composite aerospace components, he graduated to one-off build-to-spec deep space and terrestrial applications at CalTech/JPL. From there, he moved to Seattle to head consumer-driven product development at Cascade Designs. During his 20 years at Cascade, he oversaw the integrated growth and development of several well-known product-driven outdoor brands, including Therm-a-Rest, MSR, SealLine, Platypus, PackTowl and Tracks. Along the way, he was instrumental in the development and commercialization of hundreds of new products.

For the past 9 years, Pete has been an independent consultant specializing in the application of pragmatic product development management processes, methods and tools that have proven themselves to be effective at getting more of the right products to market, faster, and with fewer resources.


Pete may be contacted at: