Flops are usually associated with failure except when they are game changing. Recently watching the Olympics I was drawn to an event that changed the face of the High Jump. Dick Fosbury innovated the sport of high jumping with his unique jumping style known as the “Fosbury Flop”. However if you are a small to mid-sized company, having a new product “flop” is a scary venture. CEOs are strongly encouraged to have an innovative culture in order to remain competitive, but the key is managing failure and learning from it.
Process is Critical
Having managed many brands and businesses over the years, it was an eye opening experience how little things can quickly go awry and become costly mistakes or “flops” if you will.
Throughout my career, I have used a variety of processes for creating new products or renovating existing ones. The best one I have used is the Stage Gate Process which provides a great framework for managing the idea through launch. The objective behind the process is to enable sound decision making along the way. You can effectively “pull the plug” at any time on an idea (due to financials, manufacturing, legal, product viability issues, etc.) to minimize “flops”.
Stage "Gates" Are the Key
The process is divided into various “Stages” which have specific tasks to be completed by members of a cross-functional team. In order to pass through the “Gate” to the next “Stage”, the Team needs to agree the idea has met the requirements for that particular phase, based on information collected. At each Gate hurdles are established for passing though to the next Stage.
Embracing a Stage Gate process may seem daunting especially for a small to mid-size company. There are short cuts that can help. For example at one organization I worked with created its own “abbreviated” version. The Team (R&D, Marketing, Manufacturing, Finance and Sales) created its own templates and requirements that fit the way the company did business.
Perfect Your Technique
Here is a breakdown of the “abbreviated” Stage Gate process. While I am sure Dick Fosbury did not use a Stage Gate process to develop his “Flop”, he still went through very similar steps to perfect his technique.
- Idea / Concept Stage – Ideas can come from anywhere. You can generate them through an ideation session using an outside firm or gather ideas internally. The goal of this Stage is to determine whether the idea has some level of merit without spending a lot of company resources. The key questions at this Stage are: Does the customer want it? Can we make it? Does it strategically fit with the brand / business? And can we make money at it? While I don’t know for a fact, my guess is that Dick Fosbury probably tried many different techniques before landing on his idea.
- Feasibility Stage – During this Stage, more time and energy is spent by the Team to determine if the idea has merit. From the customer standpoint, it is important to build the business case for the idea to determine whether you have a competitive advantage, in addition to more rigorous financials assessment, and manufacturing feasibility. A rough timeline would also be created at this stage. Fosbury knew his new technique had a competitive advantage. More specifically, the advantage comes from physics, which allows the jumper to have a center of gravity at or below the bar, thereby being more efficient.
- Product Development Stage – The Team has decided the idea is worth pursuing, however actually making it may prove more challenging. By actually designing and producing the new product idea on a short run basis, one can determine tighter costs and feasibility. From a Marketing standpoint, you would assess the optimized product to determine purchase intent and potentially conduct packaging and naming research. Marketing plans would be developed and a tighter timeline for launch. Fosbury developed and perfected the “Flop” in high school and tested it at Oregon State University where he used it to win the 1968 NCAA title and Olympic Trials. A great testing ground for the upcoming Olympics.
- Launch Stage – All systems go. The marketing strategy to create customer demand is established, Sales officially begins selling in the new product, Manufacturing begins production and Marketing begins driving awareness and trial among the target audience. At the October 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Fosbury debuted his technique internationally and won gold with a 7 ft. 4 ¼ inch jump. Not a bad outcome from a new idea.
- Post-Launch Stage – At the six month mark, a post launch assessment should be completed to capture lessons learned. The lesson learned at the Olympics is that the jump was a far superior technique. Soon kids began practicing the jump at home on their couches or in their back yard on leaf piles and within the next decade it became the approach that all elite high jumpers used.
The Stage Gate process is primarily a new products tool, however I have found it useful to manage product improvements, as well as major changes to the production process that might impact the quality of the product offering.
Maximize Launches, Minimize "Flops"
While the process isn’t foolproof, it certainly has helped me better manage new product launches and minimize the “flops." While we all can’t be Olympic gold medalists, at least we can learn from their “flops."
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