Phase Zero: The First and Most Important Step in a Product Development Plan

blog, Product Development

The upshot: Proper execution of Phase Zero is crucial in setting up your product development plan for success. In this phase, you’ll establish design and performance specifications for your product that will form a solid foundation on which you can begin your engineering activities. Conduct this phase thoughtfully and you can avoid expensive missteps down the line.

What is Phase Zero?

The success of any product development plan has always been rooted in how seriously the developers take Phase Zero. The goal of this phase is to clearly understand the problem at hand, establish product requirements, and thoroughly detail scoping activities.

In Phase Zero, the big question that needs to be answered is this: what is the product you’re developing? 

During this phase, product specifications and key performance indicators should take form in detail. These specifications provide a solid “design foundation” on which you can begin to build preliminary assumptions that allow for the next phase (ideation and conceptualization) to take place in a focused manner. Phase Zero is also the right time to identify roles and responsibilities for you and your team.

Questions to Ask During Phase Zero

To set your product development plan off on the right foot, you need to know what kinds of questions to ask during your Phase Zero activities.

Here is a sample list to get you started – you’ll notice that most of these questions are aimed at clearly defining product requirements.

  • What should this product do?
  • What are the critical product functions? What are “nice-to-have” features?
  • What problem does this product solve?
  • What doesn’t this product do?
  • What will we need to build this product?
  • How will we measure performance for this product?
  • Who will our product’s users be?
  • What do our product’s users need?
  • What high-level tasks do we expect users to be able to do?
  • Are there any COGs targets to be mindful of?
  • Are there any regulatory requirements that we need to satisfy?

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Why is Phase Zero important? What is at stake?

“Before you put pencil to napkin, before you wreck a few whiteboards and before you consider styling lines, surface finish and color – you have to nail Phase Zero,” – Andrew Goddard.

1. Setting a foundation for product development success

Think of Phase Zero as the foundation for the rest of your product’s development. When it comes to product design, designers take their cues from product requirements established during Phase Zero activities.

If design begins based on requirements that have not been properly evaluated, you could end up designing a great system – on time and under budget – but it won’t ultimately meet the user’s needs.

2. Clarifying roles and responsibilities

Phase Zero is also the time to clarify roles and responsibilities among your team members – fail to do this and the lack of a common understanding can send projects into a time sink.

3. Avoiding scope creep to save time and resources

One of the biggest consequences of a poorly-conducted Phase Zero is “scope creep”. If you don’t properly assess your product’s requirements in Phase Zero, you may find that your team is adding or replacing features late in the product development process. This can seriously delay project timelines and cost you loads of money.

4. Meeting product requirements and regulations

It’s essential that you get really clear on your product’s requirements before moving on from Phase Zero and stay true to those ideas as you develop – this will keep you from jumping head-first into costly deviations later in the process.

5. Making smart, research-based decisions

Finally, Phase Zero is the opportunity to back up your product requirements and specifications with data. Challenge your assumptions and establish quantifiable metrics for your product – try to move away from qualitative specifications such as ‘maximize horsepower’. This will help ensure that you design and build a product that actually meets people’s needs.

Phase Zero Checklist

Here is a list of things you should aim to accomplish during your Phase Zero activities:

  1. Understand your marketing and business objectives
  2. Establish your product requirements, including at least: rough cost of goods (COG), time to market and critical features (market differentiators)
  3. Define your users and identify high-level user tasks
  4. Detail performance specifications with tolerances
  5. Set key dates and milestones
  6. Clarify roles and responsibilities for team members
  7. Elaborate on key risk areas or lessons learned from previous projects that may apply to your new project
  8. Research competitive or equivalent products – this is especially important if you’re developing a medical device that will need to undergo FDA clearance.

Learn how working with an Industrial Design Company can save time and resources in the product development process.

Streamline All Phases by Partnering With A Product Development Firm

There is a lot of important work that goes into this first phase of the product development process. Maybe you have a brilliant idea on your hands but you’re not sure where to start when it comes to user research and product specifications.

No problem – by partnering with a product development company, all phases in the product development plan can be streamlined to accelerate time to market, reduce waste, and meet regulations.

At Goddard Inc., our team of engineers and designers are well-versed in Phase Zero activities for medical device development, life sciences and diagnostics, and high-tech consumer and industrial technologies.

From concept to production, our highly-skilled engineers and designers deliver a competitive difference with our on-site partnership model, quality commitment, collaborative expertise, and unique employee development programs.

We would love to hear about what you’re working on.

Tell us about your project and let’s begin a conversation about creating products with technical precision and elegant design.

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