When specifying your new product, it is appropriate to ask the seemingly illogical question of “What’s Next?”. In reality, you probably already know or have a good sense of what will be required after you finish the product that you are just starting. Automakers, with their multi-year new product release required lead time, obviously must do this. In that industry and some others, companies have teams that are working on future product generations in parallel with those working on the current products. Virtually all companies should follow the same model, perhaps on a smaller scale, but focusing on the what’s next to some extent.
The drivers that could influence the next generation product can vary significantly. It could be a basic feature/function expansion of the current product under development, a response to a competitor, new customer requirements, or totally external factors. The economy, an election, changes in the tax code or regulations, or the expansion or contraction of markets could also significantly impact the next generation product. Needless to say, it is virtually impossible to predict many of these events. However, providing whatever insight that is available to the development team can be quite useful. Some examples of information (and speculation) that could have an impact on the current development activities include:
- The product under development is expected to be the platform for the foreseeable future, or it may be the last in a series.
- The market may be expanded to serve foreign markets in which regulations and language requirements will be different.
- The product will require significant cost reductions due to increased competition, the expiration of patents, or other market forces.
- The underlying capacity of the product will need to be significantly increased as the customers’ business grows.
- Alternate suppliers or manufacturers, perhaps off shore, will be required due to cost or regulatory requirements.
Each of these factors could have a significant impact on the current design or design decision trade-offs that occur on a continual basis. Providing developers, at all levels, with the type of insight suggested above, will help provide them with decision-making guidance. In all likelihood, the provided guidance will not be one hundred percent correct nor will it be one hundred percent wrong. In most cases, the guidance will be directionally correct and certainly better than pure speculation or the flip of a coin.
When you begin to socialize the what’s next question, the insight gathered from multiple sources will be remarkable. Take advantage of it.