Product Development: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Three tips for starting up a new product development initiative.

The New Product Development team at ASAE is inventing the NPD wheel so you don’t have to. If you’re just getting up to speed, these rules of the road may help steer you in the right direction toward new ideas, valuable products, and good decisions.

1. People: Decide who gets to decide. What skills and attitudes are needed to evaluate proposals and sunset products that have outlived their usefulness? Important ones include business acumen, strategic thinking, creativity, and people skills, and a team is stronger if its members have expertise in functional areas like marketing, meetings, membership, technology, education, publications, and research. The team should include people who are willing to try new things and make unpopular decisions—and people with authority to make such decisions. Also consider: Who submits proposals for new products? Should applicants play a role in decision making? What role will other staff and members play? Who will lead the team?

2. Products: Identify what’s in and what’s out. What counts as a product? ASAE’s definition: things we create and distribute, for free or for a fee. Also consider: Will you evaluate all products, or just new ones? (A definition of “new product” might include existing products with new markets, new content, or new formats.) How many products do you have, and in what categories? What conclusions can you draw by analyzing your portfolio for patterns related to member satisfaction, financial return, target audience, and other key success indicators?

3. Process: Create an efficient method. What criteria will you use to decide if products should be approved? ASAE’s criteria: strategic fit, member needs, market viability, feasibility, innovation, and financial net. All except financial net are scored on a five-point scale by all NPD team members. Also consider: How will decisions be communicated to applicants? What technology will house applications and the portfolio? How will you measure success?

Last spring, ASAE launched its NPD process and trained all staff. All new products must receive NPD approval. We instituted an evaluation system so applicants can review the reviewers; created an Idea Portal to serve as a pipeline for new ideas; and organized our product portfolio into meaningful categories to evaluate it for patterns, omissions, and redundancies. This NPD framework represents a new, challenging, and exciting journey for us—and might serve as a good starting point for planning your own.


Mariah Burton Nelson, CAE

By Mariah Burton Nelson, CAE

Mariah Burton Nelson, MPH, CAE, is vice president for innovation and new product development at ASAE. Email: MORE

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