Product development is so difficult because the people who pay for it oftentimes don’t think they get what they pay for, and those who do it don’t think they get the support they need to do it well.   The tension that builds between doers and payers saps energy and focus, lessening the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Product developers are a lot like early explorers.   They know what they are looking for, but they don’t know where it is or how long it will take to find.  Successive attempts, failures and corrections are the only path to success.  The number of attempts, failures and corrections required is the unknown.   Therefore, the amount of time and money that will be required is also unknown.  Luck, the sequence of approaches tried, and countless other aspects of the development process influence the path and the timeline.

People who finance these kinds of efforts have difficulty understanding this.  The problem is that in the beginning, a development project looks, sounds and feels like any other investment.

“Product developers are a lot like early explorers.”

With most investments, or purchases in general, spending money usually means getting what is wanted.  If, for example, an investor wants a building of a certain size at a certain location, and he is willing to pay the going rate, he can have it designed, built and completed on time, for a fixed price.  The money makes it happen.

With development, it is realistic to assume that the investor will not get exactly what is wanted, or at least not exactly what was expected.  This is not because developers want it this way.  It is because developers don’t know how to make it any different, and it is virtually impossible to predict with any precision early on.

Every development project has basic goals.  The first has to do with physical and performance characteristics.  The other three are manufactured cost, development cost and the time span necessary for development.  While money is solicited to finance the project, these goals will sound like absolutes.

In the minds of investors or their representatives, the goals become the deliverables for which the money will be spent. To the developer, the project goals are, and have always been, variables to be traded off against each other as dictated by discoveries made during the development process.

To the investor, the developer’s view is a cavalier dismissal of a sacred covenant.  To the developer, the view is inescapable reality, crystallized over time by experience.

It is my belief that this conflict of visions is the single largest obstacle to successful product development.

About the blogger:

Madison Finlay is the Chief Operating Officer & Chief ITAR Officer for DCI Engineering Services.

DCI Engineering Services has made product development a whole lot easier.  DCI breaks the process of product development into phases that progress no faster than investor’s confidence in the return on investment.  A customer can engage DCI at any phase of the development process.