Let me first start by saying that in the product development process, cost sensitivity is critical to being competitive. If ignored, there’s the potential to price one’s self out of the market. OK, now that we’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way and the PR guys are happy, please allow me to explain. Product design and development is most successful when a team diverges first before converging. I’m saying that kicking off a project with cost being the main driver, is tantamount to convergence out of the gate and a limiting factor to success.
The illustration above this post shows the pitfalls of convergence before divergence. The arrows symbolize different schools of thought. The target symbolizes all the good stuff for a successful product, like value added features, user centered design, brand loyalty, and increased market share. The blue arrow falling short is convergence, limiting ideas with statements like “we can’t do that, we don’t know how to do that, and it cost too much”. The red arrow is divergence, aiming your sights high for the best conceivable solution, and then converging to find a balance between cost and features. Last but not least, is the yellow feather, attempting to diverge after converging. This is because you’ve locked yourself into certain limiting factors before considering ideas that are naturally derived from non-restraint.
I think the car industry has caught onto this as they’ve been doing it since 1938, with the first concept car, the oddly named Buick Y-Job. First, they diverge; creating a concept which demonstrates provocative forms, new technologies, improved user experience, and forward thinking engineered solutions. Then and only then do they converge, addressing cost and safety standards. This is to retain the concepts differentiating aspects, discovered simply by not limiting themselves with concerns of cost in the beginning.
These clever discoveries that differentiate companies from one another are driven by curiosity and inquisitive nature, so fragile in the beginning, that need shielding from the bean counters. Of course, this requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. Strangely enough, a well thought out design can address both unmet needs and reduce production cost, while streamlining manufacturing. Divergence establishes a baseline for the product design and development team to align around, so when cost is factored in, these value added discoveries can be retained, simplified, and optimized for a profitable outcome.
I heard an interesting story from a colleague the other day. She was saying that a certain product was designed with cost in mind. Yes, the product did meet targets, but since these targets were the main driver, it ended up being an additional $500 dollars to install the unit, due to lack of consideration for more costly connectors that would have made accessibility and maintenance easier.
So, what should I focus on instead of cost, one might ask. I would say human centered design is by far the best route one can take to find success in the marketplace. Good user experience will always trump cost centricity which only leads to the eventual commoditization of your brand.