“To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands.”  Sun Tzu

With the business goals in hand, we can develop a prioritized list of business, customer, technology and regulatory needs.  These provide the foundation to developing the correct product concept(s) and avoiding decision paralysis.  They are used as criteria for concept selection, may become constraints, and/or may be translated into high level product requirements.

From the business we need to understand drivers around timing, manufacturing, human capital, financial metrics, and quality.   From the customer we need to define our customers, understand their needs, and understand the competitive landscape. For technology, what is available, do we have the capability, what is our patent strategy? Can the technology be developed within the timeline?  And if applicable, what are the regulatory needs—where are we launching, are there any changes in the regulatory environment, are there specific regulatory requirements that we need to meet?

So how do we get these needs?  There are many tools and methods available.  High level use case analysis, stakeholder analysis, ethnographic research, KJ analysis, house of quality, preliminary hazard analysis, patent position, outcome driven innovation, competitive analysis, etc.  Too many to discuss in detail here, but there are many practical ways to gather this information.  I am not suggesting that we boil the ocean.  This may be a small list of needs or it could be a long list.  You can use one technique or a combination of tools. The tools and scope are selected based on the situation.  One size doesn’t fit all.  But what I am advocating is looking at the effort from multiple perspectives so that we can best understand what needs could be met by the new product, which could be met by other aspects of the strategy, and which won’t be fulfilled at all.

Finally, all of these needs should be prioritized.  PRIORITIZATION is crucial to success.  It will be impossible to determine which concepts win without first having our priorities identified.  Look to see if any of these needs conflict with each other and determine whether the conflicts can be resolved or what the concessions will be.  This trade-off analysis is critical.  It is unlikely that any development project will meet all the needs.  It is important to identify the priorities and determine the trade-offs up front, even before a concept is selected.

These needs drive and provide direction to the development project.  Often the development team has little power to change or resolve conflicts in these initial vectors.  And changes later in the development cycle are not only difficult, but may be costly both in time and money.  Careful upfront vetting and prioritization of these voices will provide a clear road map for the development team.