In the weeks following another product withdrawal (Wrigley Halts Production of Caffeine Gum) we can reflect that history is littered with high profile product failures – and yet they continue with disappointing regularity. In May of 2012, Gartner research highlighted a 50% failure rate of new product introductions.

Were you one of the few who bought Apple’s Pippin (games console, 1995) or Microsoft’s Zune (WMA music player, 2006)? You’re unlikely to have tasted Colgate Kitchen Entrees, withdrawn following market testing (the slogan wasn’t ‘eat our entrees – you’ll want to clean your teeth afterwards’ but it might as well have been). And I know you didn’t buy the Honeywell 316 Kitchen computer (with built-in chopping board). It released in 1969 for around $10,000 and achieved precisely zero sales. Or how about LG’s Internet Fridge from 2004? The list of flops is a long one.

For some products the timing was just wrong – in 1988 AJ Reynolds introduced smokeless cigarettes – but other products on the cast-off pile just leave you bewildered. BIC disposable underwear still raises a bemused smile. We can look back with 20-20 hindsight, no pun intended, not wondering why they failed but rather why on earth someone thought they might succeed.

So what might have rescued otherwise successful companies from product launch fiascos? Gartner’s article cited strategic cross-functional sales and operations planning (S&OP) processes as a way to improve risk management and business trade-off decision-making for supply chain leaders and the NPI team.

While strengthening S&OP is likely a positive move, it’s sometimes worth reflecting for a moment on what doesn’t help avoid product failures.

Does anyone suggest that better project management would have avoided the debacles? Could any software tool alone have barred product managers from running into the abyss?  Will better resource allocation or time management make my innovation a world-beater? Sadly not.

So I’m left wondering why so many innovation and product portfolio management RFPs focus on project management features and resource planning functions. In a downturn when forward-thinking companies are looking to innovate their way out of the doldrums, can these admirable and necessary disciplines make step-changes in a company’s value?    By all means disagree (there’s a comments section below), I look forward to your insights. In a later blog I’ll explore what I believe will make a difference – unless in the meantime you manage to change my mind.

Steve Rogers is an Innovation Business Consultant with Sopheon. He has more than 20 years of experience in creating and implementing business process solutions, with an emphasis on product development. He has worked with best-in-class product innovation systems for major corporations in a range of industries, including consumer goods, chemicals, aerospace and defense, and hi-tech.

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