If you have been following along at home, you know that we have successfully progressed through the first 3 steps in our product development process: we came up with a great product idea; we built a compelling business case; then we developed our idea into an actual finished product.
Now it is time to step out into the sunshine and show everyone what you have. In Step 4, we take our newly developed product out into the big bad world and let other people poke at it, sit on it and take it for a ride. In our business, we call them field trials. Products are taken into the field and applied to real world structures by outside contractors. Our laboratory staff remains closely involved, but the idea is to see how the product will perform outside of the controlled environment of the lab. Sometimes things go exactly as one hopes and plans. Other times you might be presented with some unexpected results.
I’ll never forget the time that my father invented a new, reflective roof coating using aluminum flake powder. Aluminum had been used before in coatings to provide reflectivity, but what was innovative at the time was the fact that this new coating was waterborne. Waterborne coatings were brand new to the market at the time and my father could see that they represented the future of coatings technology.
Laboratory testing went very well. The product had all the benefits of being water based plus exhibited great performance too. A small production batch was manufactured and packaged in 5 gallon buckets. These were shipped to a customer for a trial application on a roof he had. The only problem was that apparently aluminum powder and water react with each other. This reaction produces hydrogen gas, which created ever increasing pressure within the sealed buckets. Before the buckets were even opened, while sitting in the customer’s storage, the buckets began to explode one by one. Not a fiery explosion, mind you. Just a beautiful stream of brightly colored paint launching from each newly ruptured container. It created quite a mess and sent dear old dad back to the drawing board.
In other industries, Step 4 might involve loading and using software on a production server, taste testing, focus groups, clinical drug trials, etc. It is easy to lump Step 4 in with the development work of Step 3 and, in fact, there is a natural overlap there. But I think it is important to distinguish between showing yourself that the product works and giving the product to others to try. Between doing something on a small scale and repeating it on a much larger scale, hopefully your product performs as you expect. Actually, what you hope for is to discover ways to make the product even better with only minor changes.