For the last few weeks we have discussed the development of new product lines that are not related to current production items. These types of developments offer the company the greatest opportunity for internal growth. However, most product development involves development of products closely aligned with the current offerings of the company to either expand or supplement them.

Unlike a totally new product line, this type of development will usually be handled by the existing R&D staff. But that alone will not guarantee a successful product development. Many of the keys we discussed previously will also apply to this type of project.

It is just as important to maintain close customer contact during these developments to ensure the resulting product will meet the demands of the market. Be sure that your marketing team has had input as to the potential volume and targeted selling price so that there are no surprises at the end. Also, the development team must be totally committed to the project with a clear understanding of the goals.

When you kick off such a project, be sure that the goals, including cost and performance requirements, are clearly defined. During the course of most projects, the team will be required to make trade-offs. Understanding the goals will make those decisions much easier.

Develop a plan highlighted with key milestones. Leave time in the schedule for unforeseen delays and problems. Watch your cost estimates for the final design closely. Remember, a new product addition must have better margins to warrant the effort.

Be sure that as a manager you keep the team focused. Just as in any project, some people with key skills will have many other company obligations. Management must determine their priorities, not the individuals. As managers, remember to “feed your opportunities and starve your problems.” This advice from Peter Drucker is not always easy to execute when problems appear in your “inbox” (whatever that may be) nearly every day. As a successful manager, you cannot be tempted to manage from your inbox or you will never accomplish anything new.