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The Trinity of Product Development

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 08:33 -- KevinMcFarthing

The early stages of innovation are inevitably quite uncertain and poorly defined.  The Front End process gradually clears the fog, you’ve done your research experiments and confirmed that you have both technical and market feasibility.  There comes a point when the development target is clarified, and this is where the Trinity of product development takes over.

The members of this special group are:

-  TIME.  When will the product be launched?

COST.  What resources will be available?

TARGET.  What exactly are you trying to develop?


The launch date is crucial.  Every day not on the market loses revenue and incurs cost, so once the “go” button has been pressed, speed to market is crucial.  Many new product launches involve a commitment from a large number of players, both inside and outside the company.  From factories committing to produce through to customers committing to buy, a lot of people put a lot on the line for a launch date.  So missing a launch date is not an “oh well, never mind” moment.

Of course delivering a sub-optimal product because of a reckless rush to market isn’t sensible.  That’s where the other members of the Trinity play a role.


The costs of developing a product usually include people, internal and external spend and factory time.  Often some parameters can be “flexed” to compensate for shortfalls elsewhere.  For example, providing funding for external partners can meet a shortage of skilled internal people. 

Establishing target project costs and allocating resource at the start of a development is not only sensible management, it provides some – hopefully flexible – boundaries.


The final member of the Trinity is the target.  This covers the

-  Specification.  What are the detailed features, benefits and performance that need to be delivered?

Characteristics.  What colour, shape, aesthetics, flavours, size, number of variants in a range etc are required?

Claims.  What product claims will be made in marketing?  Are there regulatory requirements for claim support?

Product cost, or Cost of Goods (COGs).  Innovation must add value; to do so it needs to generate profitable revenue that meets business expectations.  Understanding the cost constraints on the new product is an essential part of the development.

The target definition also gives the opportunity for the project team to challenge themselves to stretch the target.  The underlying questions should be how the product can be better; and how can the project be done more efficiently and easily.


Given that innovation is all about trying new things, there will be many elements of a project that will not have been done before within the company.  So something will happen that isn’t expected.  It’s highly unusual for a project to be launched early, below budget and beating the target specification.  So the art of using the Trinity in product development is to flex one in order to meet the others.

For example, investing more resource may help both time and target; relaxing the target can help both time and cost.


Creativity is usually associated with the front end of innovation.  It’s also very useful and widely used at the back end, albeit in a different context.  Because things don’t always go as planned, innovation teams need to be creative in order to solve problems, to develop ways to work round obstacles, to find new ways to hit the target.  This creativity forms a crucial part of organizational learning, as the new approaches become embedded in the innovation toolbox for use in future projects.


Defining the Trinity right at the start of the development project is not a task that is allocated to one person cooped up alone in a darkened room, emerging into the light several days later shouting “I have a plan!”  It’s a cooperative process involving a project team, where key parts of the company are represented by people with a mandate to both participate and decide. 

It’s worth spending time working hard at the plan, evaluating opportunities to improve any of the Trinity parameters, thereby building more chance of success into the plan.  The multi-functional team not only has a better chance of producing a plan that works, in the process they also generate the commitment and alignment that is essential to success.

Every project should start with a “kick off” meeting that is the final part of this planning process.  Everybody has a chance to contribute, but at the end of the meeting, 100% commitment to implementation is key – no more discussion, but action.

Innovation projects are tough enough already, so using the Trinity approach to product development enables maximum clarity on the way forward.

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