Last time, we began discussing the development project focused on a new and improved version of an existing product line. As with all R&D work, don’t ignore small problems that occur in the development testing. If it occurs during your development, you can be sure it will be magnified tenfold when the product reaches the customers' more rigorous and unanticipated demands.

And continue to talk to your key customers. Bring them in to review and comment at important milestones. Be sure they also sign non-disclosure agreements at this time to avoid giving away your technology. Keep your marketing people in the loop so they can properly promote the final product.

Involve your manufacturing staff early in the process to provide their input on containing costs and improving manufacturing efficiencies. One of the scariest development processes I have seen is where the engineering development team literally tosses their final prototype “over the petition” to manufacturing and figures they’ve done their duty.

Engineering and manufacturing can also do the same to the sales people. At one time, a company had what everyone began to call “the product of the month.” With no thought to the impact on manufacturing schedules or marketing, engineering was literally putting out new and improved versions and modifications to the product line every month. This is a very expensive exercise not only from the cost point of view, but in the confusion it sets up in the marketplace as to which products the company is actually supporting.

Product improvements should always be on the agenda but handled in a well-thought-out program that maintains shop efficiencies and provides an even marketing profile for your company. However, with the rapid pace of technological change in today’s world, as a company, you must be prepared to confront the need for new product development that involves a higher risk and a well-thought-out strategic plan and management control.