Dog training – and why to be ruthless with product development

This issue will be very well known to organisations where large-scale product development is the norm, like FMCG and pharma, but may not be so familiar to others. Let me explain the issue with an odd-ball case …

Training dogs to help the hard-of-hearing

Near where I live is the training HQ for Hearing Dogs for the Deaf (HDD). Yes, it does what it says on the tin – they train dogs to help people with poor hearing.

First, they home puppies with local families for the first year of life to get them socialised and house-trained.

Then, the dogs start training. But to continue the socialising and keep costs down, other local families offer ‘bed and breakfast’. Essentially, the dogs ‘go to school’ 9-5 each weekday, but go back ‘home’ overnight and at weekends. This is nice for the families – all the fun time with the dogs, with none of the cost or responsibility!

Last, when they graduate, the dogs are placed with people who need their help. But some dogs don’t make the grade, and have to be found other homes.

photo of dog with 'dog lovers wanted' and link to the Hearing Dogs site

We have had some of these canine guests in the past, and most have been fine – but not all. One little spaniel got too curious when out walking and would just disappear – we had to get the centre’s staff to help find her!

Then there was “Lewis”, who I can only describe as a hooligan! He would eat anything that wasn’t locked away – forever dug his way out under our fence – ravaged neighbours’ gardens with his digging.

What the heck has this got to do with product development and business?!

Well – every phase of this dog-training process is very costly. HDD pays all of the feeding and vet. costs, and their staff spend many, many hours on the dogs’ training, and on monitoring their socialising.

So … our friend Lewis had already cost HDD many £000s before he even got to training, then cost many more £000s during the 12 months that staff tried – desperately! – to get him up to the grade.

But it must have been obvious – certainly by the time we had him, and probably much earlier – that he would never make the grade. So all that wasted effort and cost should have been released to focus on other dogs that would more likely be OK.

The lesson here – CUT YOUR LOSSES EARLY.

I hope the relevance is now clear. When developing products – or indeed pursuing any new initiative – it is important to be ruthless in recognising when something is just not going to work. And stop throwing money and effort at a lost cause.

There are many variations on the product development pipeline below, and stages may overlap. But the principle is clear – every stage is costly, in cash and effort. Better to focus later stages on fewer, more promising opportunities.

diagram of product development stages - potential new products; prototype; tech-development; market testing; current live products - with continue or drop between each stage

The principles of all this may be clear enough. But how exactly to make the right choices, continually? Class 6 of our course on building dynamic business models shows how to build a working model of this product pipeline – and others (staff promotion, customer development, asset maintenance). See free preview lessons here.

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PS. In case you wonder what happened to poor Lewis, he was taken on by the police, where his energy and persistence were much appreciated.

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