Product launches are complex. That was the main takeaway of the PDMA 2010 Lab E – Launch for Commercial Success which I had the privilege of attending last week. The session kicked off with an apt and literal example: a NASA launch. When NASA launched the Saturn V, its engineers were depending on the successful integration of two million distinct systems. Two million! And, as Richard Koppel pointed out, NASA operates in a space (get it?) where getting it right the first time is “mission critical” – if something goes wrong, not only are millions of dollars wasted, but people die. Fortunately, product launches are not as high stakes as shuttle launches, but you still want to ensure your innovation is brought to market as seamlessly as possible. So how do you launch successfully given all of the variables, risks and uncertainties inherent in the process? Here are the top seven themes of the day which will help you make sure all systems are go when you blastoff.
1. Lay Out Complexities Up Front
Before you can begin coordinating all of the different components, you need to take time to map out all of the different layers of uncertainty that exist. Take a step back and list the factors that you will need to consider – distribution channel, supply chain, marketing, competition, timing, the position of the sun at 12:52 pm on July 17th, 2013… whatever will influence your launch. Make sure the team is aware of all of the variables before you start planning contingencies.
2. Seize Opportunities as They Arise
Many of the cases presented today were situations in which organizations moved away from their original business and ventured into a new space when they recognized an opportunity. This point was brought home at the end of the day in the key note address by Derek Yach, SVP of Pepsico who talked about how Pepsico’s core competencies—distribution excellence, vertical integration, and marketing talent—allowed it to migrate away from its traditional sodium and sugar dense snack portfolio into nutrition. Look to leverage your core competencies to pursue new markets.
3. Use the “Corkscrew” Process
Instead of the traditional Stage Gate model for innovation, Rob Mann argued for using a “corkscrew” or “bedspring” model. The idea is that while you progress forward, you continue to cycle back and resolve issues as they arise. Richard Koppel called this ability “disciplined flexibility.” You need to constantly loop back, reasses, and adapt.
4. Embrace Risk
Steve Smolinksy said “people who are most successful at launching are those willing to take risks and are not worried about failure.” The second part is critical. This does not mean you should take unnecessary or excessive risks, it just means that you can’t innovate if you are afraid to fail. Innovation has no training wheels. The good news is that it is actually OK to fail, as long as you learn from it.
5. Put Some Rookies on the Roster
In most organization, innovation teams are usually comprised of grizzled, politically savvy veterans who represent the old guard. The best innovation teams however, are made up of cross-functional teams that include young, hungry, and passionate members as well and let ‘em learn on the fly. The importance of cross-functional teams with both naïve and expert players is actually a core tenet of the approach of my company, Creative Realities, Inc. We call this “M.A.S.H. Mentality”, after the famous mobile hospital team. You can learn more about it here. The mix of experience and passion is a powerful combination.
6. Create a Brand Experience
According to Jim Joseph, the definition of marketing is: building an incredible consumer experience. The difference between a product and a brand is that brands create an emotional connection. Starbucks, Nike, and Apple are examples of companies that excel at this. When you launch, think about how your brand experience can transcend the product itself.
7. Design Matters
Ultimately, the success of your launch is going to be determined largely by the quality of your design. A case example demonstrated that even in the long haul truck category, an innovative, “sexy” design was critical to a successful launch. To create top quality design, be unique and engage customers early in the process. Explain to customers up front that the design is not yet mature then let them tell you how to improve it. If you can resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently, they will love you for it. That is how you build brand loyalty. It was even suggested that a truly brave company could purposely launch a product with a known defect so that they could then fix it.
Given the complexity of launches, you probably don’t need to purposely make things any more complicated. If you follow these seven tips, you will set yourself up nicely for success.
Chris Dolan is a Business Innovationist at Creative Realities, Inc. the innovation management collaborative. You can follow him on Twitter @theChrisDolan.