The Importance of Having a Product-Development Process

Developing new products that continue to generate revenue helps associations thrive. To improve chances of creating products that have long-term success, it’s key that associations research need, test concepts, and stay within their mission.

As associations look to achieve steady revenue in this pandemic-recovery economy, many are launching new products. Last week, experts suggested that developing products for the long haul requires a slightly different mindset than some of the short-term products deployed last year during the height of the pandemic. And once you have that mindset in place, it’s important to follow a process to make sure the new products you launch have the power to last.

“A lot of organizations don’t have the resources or the structure or framework for proper product development and management processes,” said Craig Dykstra, senior marketing consultant at McKinley Advisors. “They are willing and able to roll up their sleeves and dig into these problems, but they don’t necessarily know exactly what the proper processes and workflows are in order to efficiently and effectively develop, manage, or pivot new products or existing products to generate the revenue or engagement they’re looking for.”

That process can generally be boiled down to a handful of steps. Jennifer Blenkle, director of new product development and strategic initiatives at the American Physiological Society, said APS streamlined the steps needed for developing long-term revenue-generating products.

“We narrowed it down to five steps, or five phases,” Blenkle said. “They are intelligence, exploration of an idea, developing an idea, testing an idea, and then reviewing it.”

Blenkle boiled down the most essential elements of the steps for clarity. “Intelligence is really looking at the market, trends, or policy shifts that we are seeing in the field and thinking about whether there are opportunities for APS to create a product that could address those needs,” Blenkle said. “Then we develop what we call idea proposals, which is really looking at what’s the vision of the product, what are the different components, and what’s the rationale for the product?”

Dykstra said that researching the need and testing whether the proposed product meets the need are key to keeping associations on the right track. “Whenever it comes to product development and management, do your research—whether you’re just testing a hypothesis by talking to [potential customers] or you’re testing a concept with a sketch or a prototype,” Dykstra said.

When associations skip this part of the process, Dykstra said the results are typically bad.

“The more assumptions you have around a product or a concept that go unconfirmed or unvalidated, the more costly it’s going to be in the long run,” he said. “While research may take some time, it’s much better to confirm everything and gather as much in-depth information as you can. It’s going to save you money in the long run, because you have confirmed and iterated and used that information to build your product over time.”

While associations want to be innovative with new products, it’s also important to make sure the product is something the association is equipped to do.

“One of the things we joke is: We’re not creating a hotel,” Blenkle said. “We are not creating an ice cream line. It still needs to be within advancing our mission, which is to advance scientific discovery, understanding life and improving health. If it comes through that phase, it goes into development.”

The five-phase process APS designed is meant to have flexibility. “Our goal in creating the five phases, it is linear, in that ideas move through, but our goal is to constantly be working on developing the pipeline as we move through it,” Blenkle said. “There won’t be a straight step-one, step-two, step-three process. We expect things to go back and forth as we explore ideas to kind of flow back and forth throughout the different phases.”

Dykstra noted that while the pandemic has been challenging, it’s also provided opportunities for associations to reconnect with members and provide products that best serve them. “Associations have a great opportunity on their hands to actually consider the products they’ve been selling and been providing to their audiences,” Dykstra said. “There is actually an opportunity to say, ‘Here is the need of the audience we currently serve or new audiences we are considering.’”

This is part two of a three-part series on product development. If you missed part one, read it here. The final article of the series will address what to keep in mind as you evaluate products to determine if they have enough life to keep going or need to be sunset.

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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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