One of the most frustrating new product development (NPD) scenarios is when a great idea on paper doesn’t quite translate in practice. Very often this situation emerges from challenges in one of these buckets (if not both):
- Technology challenges. Sometimes you have a great idea, but the organization doesn’t possess the technical capabilities to manufacture it at scale or, even worse, you can’t manufacture it at all.
- Business considerations. Once in testing, you realize that market and customer sentiment aren’t strong enough to generate the revenue necessary for success.
At this point, decision-makers have two obvious choices: kill the product, or delay it until technology challenges are resolved or market conditions are more favorable. But there’s a third option; eliminate certain product features and moving forward with production—product refactoring.
The NPD strategy behind product refactoring
Products are no longer holistic in the way they once were. Today’s offerings—smart products specifically— are more than just refrigerators and TVs. They’re a series of connected parts, pieces, features and capabilities. The concept of a “minimal viable product” (MVP) came from the idea that a product can change. As such, products aren’t killed as quickly as they used to be—they’re refactored.
Product refactoring typically occurs during development but can also happen at the end of development or even as launch approaches. You may find that a feature isn’t technically feasible and remove it from the product definition, then re-evaluate your position on commercial success. Other times, a product may make it to early market testing and a specific feature just doesn’t live up to its initial promise.
The product refactoring process
Take a product like household paint, which traditionally consisted of a container and the paint. Pretty basic. Imagine paint as a smart product that is mixed on demand in a consumer’s home to provide an exact color that the consumer scans with their smartphone. This complete product consists of an app, a communications system, a paint mixing system and more.
What if you found, during development, that you couldn’t adequately identify the color based on the photo the consumer took and couldn’t create the exact desired color? You still might bring the product to market because the mix-on-demand concept might still be still valuable. Instead of consumers buying many cans with many colors, they can buy one can and spray the color they want. It won’t be an exact match, but such a product might still be very useful.
Refactoring can save a product—and money
One of the most expensive mistakes in new product development is buying into the sunk cost fallacy: We’ve invested all this time and money into this product, so we might as well see it through. This miscategorized business reasoning often happens when a product is near the end of the development stage. You keep going because you want to provide stakeholders a return on every investment, no matter how small. Suppose killing the product would be the appropriate decision, no matter how unpopular?
This is where product refactoring might make the most sense. Refactoring is a viable alternative that can yield returns instead of killing the product altogether or just pushing an inferior product to market. Even further, refactoring may actually make the product more streamlined and user-friendly, leading to a much better offering than originally intended. And in cases where a feature is removed because it’s too advanced for the market, it can be put aside and reintroduced when the timing makes more commercial sense.
Product refactoring makes an enormous amount of business sense—doing so brings a level of agility that gets closer to what new entrants and smaller companies inherently have because of their reduced size. Plan for refactoring by enhancing your governance and innovation processes and using systems such as Sopheon’s Accolade.
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