Top 5 Product Development Trends of 2017

What Product Development Teams Need to Know to Succeed

Tim Anderson | February 22, 2017

Developing new products is hard. Herculean efforts are required to take a concept all the way through the development process to launch. On top of that is the constant pressure to build faster, smaller, with higher quality at less cost than the last generation. Teams have to read the tea leaves to pick which features consumers will want, and architect a solution that will resonate at a certain price. Of course, these product development teams also have to worry about an army of competitors trying to get to market first.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the development landscape is constantly evolving. This article will explore five ways in which the world of product development is changing, and how these trends will impact teams building new products in 2017.

Software tipping point

At some point in last few years the contribution of software to typical new products became the majority of the development effort for the project. What does that mean? It used to be that a typical device consisted of hardware and some firmware. That firmware was the software that allowed the product to operate, and was, by today’s standards, quite simple and wasn’t updated often. Think about your old VCR, the firmware controlled the play, pause and stop buttons as well as the clock that flashed 12:00 for years at a time. Teams designing new VCRs back in the day spent the majority of their time working on the mechanical bits required to precisely drag the magnetic tape across the read head. Firmware for the VCR was important, but it was far from the largest task in the project.

Fast forward to today and the TiVo device sitting in your entertainment center. The TiVo media device is custom built computer with its own customer operating system and advanced software. Their hardware is quite complex, but clearly the software embedded in their device accounts for the majority of the development process.

As product development teams reach that tipping point and more than half of the effort is on the software side of the ledger, interesting dynamics start to occur within the team. The full effects of this shift are beyond the scope of this post, but as fast moving ‘agile’ software teams become more central to the development process their impact is felt within the entire development team.

Distributed teams

Talking about teams, they are becoming more dispersed across multiple geographies. Clearly there are many companies today working out of a single office, but the trend is to go where the talent lives. It’s not at all uncommon to see even small companies with a hardware team in Phoenix Arizona, a software team in Redmond Washington and a team of scientists working on the next great technologies in Madison Wisconsin. Typical product development processes become tedious across multiple locations and time zones. Stage gate reviews are tough enough with the entire team in one conference room, distributed teams are forced to find new collaboration tools to bring teams and project data together virtually.

Working within an ecosystem of products

It’s not enough for a new product in 2017 to just work well on its own. Many new products today have to work within an ecosystem of products to solve complex problems or create dynamic solutions for the customer. For example, at the Consumer Electronics Show last month a whole slew of smart home products were announced that are designed to work with Amazon’s Echo voice activated device. Consumers are less interested in stand alone devices and are looking for their products to work seamlessly together as a single network of devices. This creates complex challenges for product development teams. Which ecosystems should they target working with? Once a target is defined, what are the unique requirements that come along with that system?

Massive amounts of data

Today’s smart connected products are loaded with sensors; microphones, GPS location, cameras, temperature sensors, etc. Data from these sensors, along with the software to make sense of the data, create the unique customer experience. The data is also hugely valuable to product development teams as it can paint an accurate picture of product use, which shapes how the next product is designed. However, all of this data adds up and has to be managed. When autonomous car researchers starting recording the vast amounts of data produced by the array of sensors embedded into the car, they found that they could fill a normal computer hard drive every few seconds. For a product expected to stay on the road for a decade, this amount of data becomes an issue for the development team to manage.

Possible security event impacting views on privacy

All of this data also create questions of security and privacy. Many new products today could, in theory, be hacked to transmit your location, your images, or voice to bad actors.

In 1982 seven people were murdered when Tylenol capsules were tampered with and laced with cyanide. That event had a profound impact on how products were packaged and how consumers shop.

In consumer products we have yet to see a ‘Tylenol’ moment…an event that greatly raises shoppers understanding and feelings about smart connected product security. Not saying such an event will happen, but product teams need to be aware that if a security event happened, consumer views about their product security could be negatively impacted, so it’s best to be solid on privacy requirements from the outset.