From napkin to product: Perils of product management

Steve Carkner talks about product development

Last week’s CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 lecture featured Steve Carkner, President of Panacis Medical, on the topic of product development. Steve is an award-winning designer as well as an investor and advisor to start-ups.

Product development is central to any technology enterprise and the results of the product development process can heavily influence the success or failure of a start-up.  Fortunately it’s a very structured process and a model like the V-Model of Development that Steve discussed can help you navigate though the various stages no matter how big or small your product.

What did we learn from Steve’s more than 20 years in product development? Here is some of his advice to avoid common perils of product management:

  • Factor in time and money for all stages of development: from defining your concept of operations; to the requirements and architecture of the product; to detailing its design; to implementation; to integration, testing and validating it; and the operations and maintenance of the product after it’s been sold. Each stage (if done well) will avoid problems and costly fixes in later stages. Most people assume that once the design is done, you are pretty much finished, but in reality the budget for your program should be split with roughly half of the budget being spent completing the design work, and half being spent after on validating the product and making sure it fits your customers’ needs.
  • Document exactly what you want to do in each stage.  The first step to getting anything done is to document it.  If you don’t have a detailed plan you risk inefficiencies and failure at best, a lawsuit at worst.
  • Stick to the plan! Following the plan increases your chance of success and avoids other perils, like feature creep (i.e. going beyond customer requirements and ending up over budget). Any departure from specifications should be well documented and agreed to by everyone involved.
  • Don’t underestimate the complexity of product management. Each component or part of your technology is a mini-project in itself.
  • Keep a constant eye on the customer requirements throughout the process to ensure that design decisions do not impact meeting these requirements as they are the basics of your plan.
  • Treat failures like gold. Trace failures to root causes: get your engineers to find the root cause of the failure and fix it.  Don’t assume an early prototype failure is just a glitch — it very often points to a critical area of weakness.
  • It’s exceedingly rare to over budget on product development. You can’t predict unexpected interactions with other technology or other problems, but you can budget for these unexpected challenges.  Budget more than you think you’ll need for each stage (time and money).
  • Check everything before production. Have a detailed System Verification Plan and fix any fundamental design changes before production.

Steve’s company, Panacis, was named as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies by Profit Magazine in their 2009 Profit 100 issue.  Steve was previously Director of Product Development at Research In Motion (RIM) where he was instrumental in its growth from a small 12-person consulting company into a multi-billion dollar wireless-focused corporation. So, he’s definitely someone you want to listen to.

Want to hear more about product management?  Check out the slides and video below.

Downloads and resources

Weren’t able to attend the class? Need some notes or want to look something up? Click below for all of the goodies from the lecture. Watch the video and the slide presentation below.

CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 2009/10 – Week 11 – Product Development from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.