Product Development

The job of translating target customer requirements into a working prototype is helped by a set of methods known as quality function deployment (QFD). This methodology takes the list of desired customer attributes (CAs) generated by market research and turns them into a list of engineering attributes (EAs) that the engineers can use. For example, customers of a proposed truck may want a certain acceleration rate (CA). Engineers turn this into the required horsepower and other engineering equivalents (EAs). QFD allows firms to measure the trade-offs and costs of satisfying customer requirements; it also improves communication among marketing, engineering, and manufacturing.11

Next, the firm uses QFD to develop one or more physical versions of the product concept. The goal is to find a prototype that customers believe embodies the key attributes described in the product-concept statement, that performs safely under normal use, and that can be produced within the budget. The rise of the World Wide Web has driven more rapid prototyping and more flexible development; prototype-driven firms such as Yahoo! and Microsoft cherish quick-and-dirty tests and experiments.12

When the prototypes are ready, they are put through rigorous functional tests and customer tests. Alpha testing means testing the product within the firm to see how it performs in different applications. After refining the prototype further, the company moves to beta testing, enlisting customers to use the prototype and give feedback on their experiences. Beta testing is most useful when the potential customers are heterogeneous, the potential applications are not fully known, several decision makers are involved in purchasing the product, and opinion leadership from early adopters is sought.13

Consumer testing can take a variety of forms, from bringing consumers into a laboratory to giving them samples to use in their homes. In-home placement tests are common with products ranging from ice cream flavors to new appliances. For example, when DuPont developed its new synthetic carpeting, it installed free carpeting in several homes in exchange for the homeowners' willingness to report their likes and dislikes about the carpeting.

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