Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version
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Exploratory Product Development: Executive Version

Adaptable Product Development in a Changing World

About the Book

This Executive Version of Exploratory PD® (ExPD) examines the organizational constraints imposed by a standard phased-and-gated product development process. We discuss why those constraints are a problem for organizations today. We then look at the lessons of the Manhattan Project, a highly successful historical project, and introduce ExPD an adaptable and flexible product development approach to developing products.

ExPD proposes a new approach to developing products, using a two-pronged solution: (1) treating product development from a comprehensive systems perspective, and (2) fundamentally redesigning the development process based on reducing project uncertainties and risk.

ExPD differs from the traditional phased and gated process in its fundamental redesign of the development process to reduce uncertainties and risks. It is an adaptive approach that responds quickly to internal and external factors. This process helps project teams identify, evaluate, and prioritize uncertainties and risks throughout a project. It then helps the team determine how and when to resolve the uncertainty or when it is appropriate to kill a project.

So often, product development fails to deliver on expectations. Why is it so hard to get product development right? The underlying problem is uncertainty, which creates risk and the potential for loss. As developers, we try to read the market correctly, but even if we are right today, how do we know the market will remain stable while we’re developing the product? Maybe the competition will render our product obsolete, or the technology won’t work the way we expect, or future regulatory changes might make our product more expensive to produce.

In product development, the underlying problem is uncertainty, which creates risk and the potential for loss. 

This uncertainty, coupled with the complexity of the environment, means that product development teams are often making decisions in the absence of sufficient information. Making decisions in the absence of sufficient information is one of the biggest challenges we see in product development. For example, you may have a good understanding of the customer and competition but relatively little understanding of the technology to use. Alternatively, you might see potential use for an existing technology but not know very much about the market. Whenever there is a lot of uncertainty with a project, there’s the risk of making errors that are costly—not just in money or time, but in lost opportunities.

Early on, we tried implementing phased-and-gated processes, the traditional best-practice product development system. Companies saw improvements, but still, we heard common complaints from our clients: burdensome documentation, a slow pace, and creativity-killing rigidity.

For us, the straw that broke the camel’s back came in the form of a very dissatisfied R&D director at a Fortune 500 company where we assisted in the design and implementation of a phased-and-gated process. While the director accepted that the approach would provide helpful structure, he was particularly resistant to its adoption, because it would be too slow and insufficiently adaptable to the ebbs and flows of his business.

But if the industry-standard best practice—the phased-and-gated approach—wasn’t the best methodology for his company, what was? At the time, there were no good alternatives. That’s when we went to work in earnest on the development of our own approach. We knew product development could be improved, and now we have the answer: ExPD. 

Please read this Executive Version of Exploratory PD; we welcome your feedback as we finish our soon to be released book. Visit our website at www.exploratorypd.com

About the Authors

Mary Drotar
Mary Drotar

Mary Drotar is co-founder of Strategy 2 Market, a consulting firm that specializes in product development. Mary’s expertise is in PD process, strategy, flexible techniques, and organizational development. She works with medical device and industrial companies in helping them improve their product development system.

Mary has an MBA from the University of Chicago. She recently graduated from the Lean Launch Pad Educators Seminar at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mary also works part-time for the University of Chicago, as a Faculty Coach for the New Product Development, Market Research and Intellectual Property Lab courses.

Kathy Morrissey
Kathy Morrissey

Kathy Morrissey is a co-founder of Strategy 2 Market. Her product development expertise is in developing business platforms, innovation, product development strategies, as well as product and technology roadmaps. Also, she also has considerable experience in portfolio management and early-staged product development activities.

Kathy has an MS in Statistics from Carnegie-Mellon. She also has an MBA from the University of Chicago. She recently graduated from the Lean Launch Pad Educators Seminar at the University of California, Berkeley. Kathy also works part-time for The University of Chicago, as a Faculty Coach for the New Product Development, Market Research, and Intellectual Property Lab courses.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Standard Innovation Approach
  • Innovation Constraints
  • Lessons of the Past
  • The Solution: Exploratory PD (ExPD)
    • Segment 1: Strategy Segment
    • Segment 2: Ideas & Selection
    • Segment 3: Explore & Create Segment
  • Special Considerations for Implementing ExPD
  • ExPD Case Study: OdorDone
  • ExPD Is a System
  • Summary
  • Notes

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