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How to prioritize and manage new product development

Media companies are beginning to ditch their IT mindset and harness the creativity of their teams. The days where new product ideas were routed to an antiquated ticketing system or an email that seems to go into a black hole are in the past. At our first Digital Trailblazers Summit, we got an inside look at the processes and tools some publishers are using to foster innovation.

One challenge in opening up product ideation is the concern on the part of developers that everything that gets built needs to be maintained. At some point, the capacity to create new products is eclipsed by the maintenance work required to maintain old ones. Wallace Ryland, partner at Arden Operating Company and former head of business development at Kiplinger, had an interesting take on new products: “At Kiplinger, we created a very simple form: what it is, what’s the goal, what’s the forecast for audience development and revenue. After 90 days, if we didn’t like it, it’s off the site.”

Tina Imm, General Manager, Lifestyle Digital Group at Time Inc., has a similar process. “Someone submits a form that lists the idea and the potential audience. It’s the first line of defense, as it makes you think it through a little more.” Instead of those submissions going into a black hole, Imm holds greenlight meetings. “We have them on a weekly basis. For a while, people were getting discouraged, saying it’s a ‘no’ meeting. But we were just trying to turn it into a more thoughtful process. When ideas go through, they get approved quickly. It makes people more accountable.”

Both approaches feature quick and easy idea sharing as well as a willingness to kill off a product quickly if it doesn’t take off. In the past year, Google and Yahoo have both spent a lot of time refocusing resources and killing projects for this very reason.

Imm also shared what I thought was the most important insight on the subject of new idea generation, “That’s the one thing cool about our company. Even though the general media environment is incredibly conservative, we constantly focus on innovation. So it’s important to make sure the team understands that the best ideas don’t always come from management.” Imagine if your summer interns hold the best product idea of the year but never tell you because they are scared to speak up.

It’s important to realize that some ideas take time to gestate. They may not be ready for development in their current state, but with some collaboration and discussion could come back as a much more viable product.

In order to accommodate this process, consider creating a Yelp-like environment for new ideas. Anyone should be able to submit a product idea: reader, advertiser, editor, salesperson, audience development person. Others should be encouraged to comment on and rate ideas based on revenue opportunity and audience development potentail. Develop some type of incentives and rewards to encourage conversation. It’s a perfect opportunity to experiment with gamification.

Here are a few tools that can be used to create a community of internal and external customer feedback and ideation.

How do you manage new product development at your company? Drop us a comment below and share with us your successes and failures! Also, feel free to share this article with your digital development team, as they may have ideas about how to improve the process and tools that you use as well.

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