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Idea Screening:
Best Fit Against the Specification

Essential Product Development for Engineers

Once a range of ideas has been suggested, the next stage is to weed out weaker ideas, leaving the strongest most promising concepts. Identifying the best ideas enables resources (often scarce in small manufacturing businesses) to be targeted, with the greatest chance of product development success.

From a business point of view, product development is a risky activity, which consumes resources without a guarantee of profit, particularly if not executed correctly. Up to 80% of product costs are set at the design stage. As such, screening ideas reduces risk by backing the strongest ideas which are most likely to be developed into the most successful profitable products.

Screening ideas can involve a number of different approaches and considerations. These include:

  • Who’s responsible for screening?
  • How to screen – practical considerations
  • Review against the specification
  • Best fit for the business review

Who’s Responsible for Screening?

This is likely to be a small team drawn from different disciplines within the business. The cross-functional team involved with concept generation is a natural group from which to select the collective. Importantly, there may need to be senior management representation – those who can talk business at board level. Sales and marketing involvement should be able to represent the viewpoint of the customer, as well as future industry trends. Small manufacturers clearly don’t have masses of people to call upon for this. However the team should include a minimum of 3 people.

How to Screen – Practical Considerations

After all the effort of generating ideas, get them all on the table ready for review. You may want to group ideas that are similar. Book a meeting. Get the team in a room with the ideas and associated documentation like the specification. Ensure somebody is prepared to lead and facilitate the session.

The session should be structured with the purpose stated up front, for example to identify the 3 most promising ideas or to pick the strongest idea. Methodically work through the concepts. Review each idea by asking the same or similar questions to ensure fair assessment. Discussion and comparison is encouraged.

Company sizes and cultures clearly differ. As such, the formality of screening may vary. Some small manufacturers may decide to formally score each idea against certain criteria, say out of 5, followed by totalling the scores at the end. Scores, together with comments, may be noted on paper or on a flipchart so they are visible to all. Alternatively, a more formal discussion about each idea, perhaps examining pros and cons, may be enough to decide and select ideas. Either approach or a combination of the two is appropriate for small manufacturing businesses.

Practical Concept Screening Considerations 

Review against the Specification

Reviewing the concepts against the specification is a methodical process, where each idea is assessed against each of the requirements set out in the specification. How well will the idea meet each requirement? Will giving a score help or is ‘met’ and ‘not met’ sufficient? At this stage, for some of the ideas it may not be possible to tell. If so, is it worth commenting on the idea’s potential or simply noting that the idea requires greater development before it is possible to know for certain.

The cross-functional nature of the team comes into its own here. The differing disciplines enable thorough examination of each idea. The result is the strongest ideas will be more viable, and likely to succeed, as they’ve been ‘sanity checked’ by experts. In short the risk is reduced and the probability of success increased.  

It may also be worth considering and recording ‘hybrid’ ideas, where concepts can be improved by taking the best features from a number of ideas.

Practical Engineering Example of Ideas Evaluated Against Specification Criteria  

Best fit for the Business Review

A range of business orientated questions can really help ensure idea screening is effective. Senior management, together with sales and marketing involvement is invaluable at this stage. These individuals speak with a greater degree of certainty about the business environment. Questions should take into account your unique business and industry circumstances, rather than being a standard set. However, a variation on the questions listed below is a solid start which should be considered.

  • Do you understand the market your product will compete in? Where does your product fit into it? What is the market size, together with future trends and growth forecasts?

  • Who are the key competitors and what are their specific competing products? How does the concept compare against the competition? Does it have distinct advantages and offer more value?  

  • From the customers’ point of view, how will they benefit? What features does the concept include that customers will find most valuable? What distinct advantages does the concept offer?

  • From a technology and manufacturing point of view, how viable is the product? Can it be manufacturing with existing methods, technology and know-how? Estimate how much more development time (and cost) is required to get the product to market. Can past, broadly equivalent, product development lead-times help here?

  • Consider the target price, likely cost of manufacture and profit margin per product. How does the concept stack up?

  • What is the potential for charging for aftersales service, spares and other revenue streams?

  • How does the concept fit it with the ‘feel’ of the company? Does it compliment other products and meet business objectives such as quality, targeting new markets and growth over a given period?

To help answer some of these questions is there any published trade or industry data you can obtain? Is it broken down into sections most relevant to you, such as geography, company size or customer base?

Ideas screening processes can and should be developed to meet the specific needs of your business. Customise the process so that it works for you. Some larger manufacturers develop detailed screening processes which rate, rank and score ideas in a systematic way. However as a smaller manufacturer, whether you go for a weighted scoring system or a more informal question and answer session, make the process work for you.  Ensure all who take part are clear on the aim – identifying the best ideas and eliminating weaker ones.

Idea Screening

Next... Idea Development and Testing

Back to Essential Product Development 

When was the last time your business developed a NEW product? ...Or is 'Product Development' too far removed from your core Production Engineering activities?

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