Product Development Made Simple

bookres-lamp-20110216-094132What is good product development? The answer is deceptively simple to answer and devilishly difficult to pull off. Basically people want three things – better, faster, cheaper. All the complicated analysis in the world boils down to these three fundamentals. Get them right and your odds of success go way up.

You need to nail at least two of them, preferably all three. You need hard evidence to prove you are doing them – and the definition of success must be from the customer’s perspective.

While it is easy to see how this plays out in technology (better/cheaper = iPad 1 vs laptop, better/faster = iPad2 vs iPad 1, cheaper/faster = Netbooks vs. iPad) it is more difficult to suss out what this means in education.

Tailoring your mix of these benefits really depends on what specific customers need. Here are a four examples – one from each possible combination.

Variations on a Theme

Better/Faster/Cheaper – For certain students self-paced on-line curriculum fits this bill (Apex). It isn’t a universal solution but for self-motivated students it can accelerate learning while holding costs down.

While many technology solutions claim they meet all three of these, in truth very few do. The reason is the infrastructure required – high end computers, broadband, professional development, and wi-fi, etc.

Better/Faster – High end interventions that take unorthodox approaches to teaching and learning often fit in this category (like PCI’s SpellRead). If there is solid research to back up the claims these solutions can be winners even though they don’t compete on price. They often come with a real commitment to staff development. Versus the cost of students dropping out they are not expensive, but versus traditional reading programs they are. You don’t use it where you use traditional programs so this trade off works.

Better/Cheaper – Sometimes a book is all that is called for, and renting that book is better than buying it. Welcome to Chegg. There is evidence that students at the university level who have access to digital textbooks migrate back to print after 2-3 semesters. Print is still cheaper and easier to manage than digital in many cases. This won’t be the case forever – but this highlights the essential insight that the only thing that matters is your customer’s viewpoint on these issues.

Faster/Cheaper – Given the evidence we have today many of the flash based learning games fall into this category (Food Force, Peacemaker). We don’t have enough hard evidence that they are better yet – but they certainly get students engaged with the content more quickly than traditional materials and many of them are free. When we have definitive evidence that they are better they will be a home run.

Success in this arena is tightly linked to picking the right target market. My thoughts on that are here.