Guest blog: Practical tools and techniques for New Product Development | The Big Bang Partnership

Guest blog: Practical tools and techniques for New Product Development

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An article from Idea Time team member Alejandro Perez Ibiricu


It’s often a challenge for a business to develop new products.

To be successful, you may have to take on extra resources, build new skills and make structural changes. As a result, it pays to start with a good plan that covers all elements of product development.

This was the theme of the second ERDF-funded PAPI (Product and Process Innovation) NPD peer-to-peer workshops that Dr. Jo North, our managing director, facilitated at the University of York for Yorkshire manufacturing businesses.

The aim was to share practical tools and techniques to develop new products and increase cooperation in their different businesses.

Workshop kick-off with PAPI and the University of York

The event began with a networking lunch hosted by the University of York. The business delegates had the opportunity to make connections with useful contacts within the University:

  • Darrell Hooper from PAPI explained how businesses could make use of funding and grants and gave delegates a chance to discuss various funding options available, including the PAPI Capital Grant,, a 40% grant for equipment that enables innovation and generates new jobs and growth.
  • Helen Shiels, Business Development Manager at the Biorenewables Development Centre, explained the facilities and expertise that the team there could offer. The Biorenewables Development Centre is an open-access R&D centre to support scale-up and commercialisation of bio-based products and processes.
  • The University of York careers and placements team shared the different ways in which businesses can connect with students and graduates for projects, internships and employment.
Photo: Delegates networking with Helen Shiels, from BDC

Session 1: How to make New Product Development a success

Guest speaker Paul Slater led the first session on New Product Development (NPD).

Paul is a leading expert in this area and runs The Change Shed and The Growth Shed businesses. His message is that the key to success is focusing on the right things that drive revenue and profit growth in your business and in turn, enabling these in the most effective way with a clear, achievable plan. This will create success after success – and future proof business growth – that just keeps getting better and better.

Paul asked delegates to ask themselves these questions:

  • Are you all clear on where your business is headed?
  • Do you get the best out of each other as a team?
  • Will your systems and processes help you to scale?
  • Is your product and service portfolio working as well as it should?

To start, Paul shared that 70% of all change projects fail due to a variety of reasons:

  • Companies don’t have a clear vision about their future
  • A lack of sponsorship
  • The challenge of getting people on board with the changes

Key Success Factors in New Product Development

Paul presented these five points that drive success in product innovation, according to Dr. Robert Cooper, creator of the Stage-Gate Idea-to-Launch system:

  1. Innovative, supportive climate and culture. Everything that involves people and brings people into the business
  2. Right decisions and focus. People must know which kind of decisions they are making and focus on the important points
  3. Well-articulated product strategy. When developing a product, you must have a strategy and a clear vision of where you are heading
  4. Idea-to-Launch process. The ideas for the change must be effective
  5. Voice of the customer. You must include the customers’ needs and get their feedback continuously

Also, when a business carries out product development, they may have to change their ways of working.

Collaborative models for New Product Development

Paul defined three different models for this:

  • Linear. Every task follows the one before. A task doesn’t start until the previous one finishes. This is also known as the Relay Race.
  • Linked. In this model, tasks may need team members to work together and collaborate. This is also called Rugby League as the team members are like Rugby League players.
  • Continuous. In this case, people are brought into action as they are needed, so this model is likened to Rugby Union.

After explaining the theory of NPD, Paul walked through a case study. This highlighted a number of possible issues that can occur:

  • The new product may need new skills within the business so you may have to recruit or train staff.
  • Everyone needs to pull in the same direction and work towards the same goal with a clear vision.
  • People can be resistant to change.
Photo: Paul Slater from The Growth Shed in action

Delegates used the force-field analysis tool to identify the factors that are helping and hindering NPD in their business, and to find solutions for overcoming barriers to change.

Here’s how to use force-field analysis, with the description taken from Dr. Jo North’s Toolkit of Creative Techniques:

Force Field analysis represents the opposing driving and restraining forces in situation.

For example, it can help to map out the factors involved in a problematic situation at the problem exploration stage, or to understand factors likely to help or hinder the action planning and implementation stages.

The process is as follows:

  • Identify a list of the driving and restraining forces and discuss their perceptions of them.
  • All the driving forces are arrows propelling the situation, and all the restraining forces are arrows that push back against the direction of the current situation.
  • Use arrow thickness to indicate strength of the force, and arrow lengths to indicate either how difficult the force would be to modify, although these elements are optional.
  • Use your diagrams to generate ideas around possible ways to move in the desired direction by finding ways to remove the restraining forces and by increasing the driving forces.

Photo: delegates using the force field analysis tool

Session 2: Using Design Thinking in New Product Development

Dr. Jo North led this session. Design Thinking means thinking like a designer. It’s a creative way to solve problems, as well as being a method to co-create with customers.

Design Thinking is defined as the processes, methods and tools for creating people-centred products, services, solutions and experiences. The fundamental ethos is to establish a strong connection with the people (“users”) who will benefit from the solution. It’s about working to get a deep understanding of users’ conditions, situations and needs and see the world through the customer’s eyes.

For innovation to be successful, it needs to:

  • Achieve better, more effective solutions
  • Reduce risk
  • Deliver a healthy return on investment
  • Generate engagement and support from the people it impacts

Design Thinking can help to support these.

Additional benefits from Design Thinking are that it:

  • Has a strong focus on the customer
  • Creates differentiation and competitive edge
  • Helps to reduce bias and negative behaviours that can prevent successful innovation
  • Gives a natural progression from understanding the customer and opportunities, through to product or service development
  • Provides structure, process and progression

There are challenges with Design Thinking, too. These include that it:

  • Can feel subjective and personal, rather than analytical
  • Relies on exploration and discovery, instead of racing to a solution
  • Is necessary to work with ambiguity
  • May go in unpredictable directions
  • Is an iterative, non-linear process.
  • Needs expert facilitation throughout the process

The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking process follows a number of stages:

Image: Stages of the Design Thinking Process

1) Empathise

Before starting with any new product development, it is important to truly understand the perspective of the customer.

The empathise stage involves seeing the customer’s world, understanding their feelings, appreciating them as human beings and assuming a beginner’s mindset.

Here are some of the tools and techniques that Jo shared with delegates to help them with the empathise stage:

  • Empathy map
  • Journey experience
  • Extreme users
  • Camera study

If you’d like to know more about these techniques, contact Jo at

2) Define

During the define stage, the task is to put together the information and insight gathered in the empathise stage to create a single problem statement, or point of view statement that defines the question or challenge that the business wants to solve for the customer.

3) Ideate

Having defined the challenge, the next stage is to generate ideas. There is a myriad of techniques that can be used here. Just a couple of suggestions are shown below, but if you would like to have access to more, download our free creativity toolkit here.

  • SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify/Modify, Put, Eliminate, Rearrange/Reverse. This technique is all about modifying something that already exists around us. The 7 words that make up SCAMPER are triggers for how you could make changes.
  • Brainwriting. A small number of people sit around a table, each with a sheet of paper and pen. Each person writes down or sketches three ideas in three minutes on the paper in front of them. Participants then pass the papers to the person on their right, who spends three minutes developing or adding to the ideas on the sheet they have in front of them. These steps are repeated until the papers are returned their original authors, who sort and share the outcomes with their colleagues.
Photo: Delegates using the brainwriting technique.

4) Prototype

Once you have the idea for the product, the next stage is to create a prototype. Jo advocates taking an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach.

Using the MVP approach in your business

In product development, the MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future development. Here’s one way of using it:

Create a final list of all the features that you want your new product or service to offer the end user.

Working through the list:

  • Ask yourself: What is the single-most important action that you want your users to accomplish? (This will become the main feature).
  • Then ask yourself: What other features do you want to offer?
  • Next, categorise all the remaining features under the categories ‘must-have,’ ‘nice-to-have’, and ‘unimportant.’
  • Then create your proposed MVP in 3D using materials or in 2D through doodles and sketching.

It is important that you create your MVP from the perspective of the end user of the product or service.

Remember that creating an MVP is an experiment designed to test the concept with customers.

Photo: Delegates using modelling materials to create 3D MVP prototypes

5) Test

Once the prototype is complete the next step is to test the product with customers, modify and develop further.

Design Thinking is an iterative process, which means that several development loops will be likely to nail the final product design.

Session 3: Reflection and feedback – the Goldfish Bowl technique

Jo used the Goldfish Bowl technique in the final session. It is a great way of sharing feedback and reflections between delegates.

How to use the Goldfish Bowl technique:

  • The general idea of this technique is that rather than a large group having an open discussion about something, a smaller group (ideally 2– 6 people) is isolated to discuss while the rest of the participants sit around the outside and observe without interrupting. Facilitation is focused on the core group discussion.
  • A great variation is to allow people from the outside group to ‘jump in’ and replace a member of the core group in the conversation when they want to contribute. They do this by approaching one of the people in the core group and waiting until their point has been made. It sounds a bit odd on paper, but it works very well and can be great fun. Sometimes people in the core group are quite pleased to be ‘relieved’ of their duties!
  • In smaller events, it is also a good idea to make it a game in that everyone has to jump into the core group at least once.
  • This can really help people focus on active listening, and on building on each other’s points.
  • Sometimes the best way to brief this in, especially the jumping in element, is by demonstrating it with a willing volunteer.

At the end of the day, the feedback that the delegates shared about their experience from the whole three day programme (see my article on How co-opetition can accelerate business growth here), which is summarised as:

  • Companies face very similar challenges across different markets and sectors.
  • Cooperation and learning between businesses help growth and new product development.
  • Passion for your business is key because that’s what will help you succeed.
  • Innovation and design thinking techniques for New Product Development can really help.
  • People are an essential ingredient of course in new product development success.

Do you want to learn more about NPD for your business?

For one-to-one support either contact Jo direct at, or check out our Idea Time Membership programme here.

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