How Speed to Market Starts With a Strong Foundation

BY Bridget McMullan ON NOVEMBER 28, 2018

Imagine this: You’re in the middle of developing a product when you realize you’re going to miss the launch date. That’s never happened to you, right? Well, according to the Center for New Product Development, “the average new product development project exceeds its schedule by 120%.” So why does this happen, even to the best of us?

We’ve All Been There

Over the past 10 years, I’ve encountered my fair share of delayed product launches. And I’m in good company, Tesla, Starbucks, and Apple have all struggled to launch new products on time. During my time at Foot Locker, we had an awful 76% on-time delivery rate (out of 100%, with 100% meaning you shipped your product on time every launch) despite owning the scheduling! It was embarrassing. After hours of research, we discovered the delay was due to a misunderstanding of our shipment schedules. Through quick internal fixes, we were able to increase our delivery rate to 100% and allow the marketing and buying departments to plan our product promotions properly.

The Only Constant is Change

Customer needs, driven by technical advancements, the growth of e-commerce, and decreased brand loyalty, are constantly changing. Moreover, shrinking attention spans and an overabundance of options means that product teams have their work cut out. Speed to market has become a major competitive advantage for product companies.

Product Lifecycle

Strong Foundation = More Research, Fewer Process Barriers

In my experience, the biggest reason product launches failed was due to a broken foundation.  A strong foundation should answer the following:

  • Who are we building for? (user personas)
    For Foot Locker, our persona was a sneakerhead. Sneakerheads are obsessively seeking the newest release. Even a day late wearing the wrong sneakers or apparel can make or break their day.
  • What value are we providing? (10 types)
    For Foot Locker, we focused strongly on our product and brand experience.  We did not want our sneakerheads walking into the store with a half-filled merchandising display.
  • Where are we offering this? (channels)
    The private-label product team only sold in Foot Locker stores or on our website.
  • When are we launching this? (timing)
    For Foot Locker, the product development team worked very closely with the buyers. The buyers planned a different experience or launch each month and it was our job to deliver on time to support that. My biggest lesson was leaving this to the end when it should have been part of my foundation.
  • Why do our users want our value? (value proposition)
    For Foot Locker, we sold confidence. As a leading retailer of athletically inspired shoes and apparel, we focused on delivering a premium experience through a wide range of products and storytelling.
  • How will they get this value? (supply chain)
    For Foot Locker, the product team was one piece in the development and supply-chain process. Our main focus was partnering with the right vendor and logistics partner to deliver to our warehouses across the United States

To answer each question requires lots of research (you can read more here from Sofia Quintero on why companies are missing this). Yet, a successful iterative test and learn environment requires a reduction in process barriers. So what do I mean by process barriers?

Examples like:

  • Lengthy approval process = slow, siloed teams
  • Repetitive work per department = exhausting, tedious documentation
  • Reactive upper management = unproductive, distracted teams
  • Analysis paralysis = confused, unmotivated teams

With Foot Locker, we had a streamlined process for our product development. First, we had direct access to decision makers for updated insights on new direction or trends. Second, we had a  succinct ordering and development system for transparency and efficiency to avoid repetitive work. Lastly, we made it our mission to take the initiative to test our products and know our numbers. It cultivated an accountability and pride in the department. If we felt out of touch with our customers, we headed to a store and started to talk to them. If our private-label sales were trending down, our CEO at the time, Ken Hicks, would walk into our department and ask us what was happening. It was expected that you would know the answer.

So in order to increase your speed to market, take a look at your product development process. Is your foundation strong? Did you do enough research? Is your approval process simple or complex?

As product managers, what are the best tactics to avoid delaying launches and applying speed to market as a competitive advantage? As I learned, you can focus on developing and cultivating a strong foundation by doing more research and reducing process barriers.

Got any other suggestions? I’d love to hear from you.

Bridget McMullan

About

Bridget McMullan

Bridget is a partner at Upfront Work, a product management consultancy, and has spent more than 10 years developing and manufacturing innovative consumer products. Working with Fortune 500 companies in various industries, Bridget’s expertise is understanding big box ecosystems to discover insights, hurdling complicated process roadblocks and executing profitable products and programs that offer win-win solutions for business and customers alike. Throughout her career she has worked with Foot Locker, Craftsman (Sears), Johnson & Johnson, and other name brands. Bridget holds a bachelor's degree in design from Temple University and a master’s degree in product design and development management from Northwestern University. Follow her on Medium or Twitter at @upfrontwork

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