Solutions vs. Product Development Processes: Are They Different?

Product-Development A previous survey that we conducted a little over a year ago revealed that professional marketers who are responsible for developing new solutions feel that the activities, methods and processes that they employ are different from those used to create new products.  Are they right?  Are the methods really different?  If they’re different, how different  are they?

We decided to take a look at many of the well-established new product development (NPD) models and compare them to our solutions development process. Our New Solutions Development (NSD) process is a result of many, many conversations with practicing solutions developers, and our own experiences in working with solutions companies.    The results may – or may not – surprise you.

Comparison with 5 Leading NPD Models

In the NPD field, there is no shortage of well-defined processes and tools.   We evaluated the most commonly used models – Stage Gate, Agile, PACE, the Product Development Management Association (PDMA) Toolbook, and Synapse – with the explicit objective of comparing them to what it takes to develop solutions. What we found was no single NPD model was sufficient to manage the entire, end-to-end NSD process.

We compared all of these established NPD models to the 5 major phases of the NSD process:

  • Market Assessment
  • Ideation/Concept Creation
  • Concept Evaluation
  • Specifications Definition
  • Solutions Development


NOTE: The larger the circle, the more the NPD process relates to a particular phase of the NSD process. 

The comparison of the development models revealed that none of the NPD processes cover everything that needs to be dealt with for a new solution.  For example, while the PDMA model deals with the market assessment, it doesn’t cover the Specifications Definition or the actual Solutions Development phases very well.  Similarly, the PACE model is heavily focused on the Solutions Development phase but doesn’t address the Market Assessment component in any depth.   A Solutions Marketer is forced to go across this smorgasbord of development options and cobble together the pieces that are needed to create a new, effective solutions offer.

Aligned….Or Not?

The following table describes where the various NPD processes are either aligned or misaligned with the 5 major processes required to develop a solution.

NPD-NSD Alignment Analysis





Early customer feedback capability

Focus on only the development phase of the entire process

Continuous process improvement

Considered more of a micro-planning process

Early problem recognition capability


Use of cross-functional teams; effective teamwork at all levels in the organization

Market assessments and ideation not included in the process

PDMA Toolbook

Strong emphasis on the Discovery and Definition phases that rigorously conduct market assessments

Little consideration of the development phase

Inclusion of a macro-planning process, and involves different levels of the organization

Stage Gate

Depth and breadth of the macro planning

No guidance during the “fuzzy front end”; no rigorous market assessment

Versatility, and has wide application to different development functions – e.g., innovation, branding, customer management, etc.

Can be horizontally applied

Lack of cooperation, coordination and interaction needed for NSD within the organization at different levels


Clear definition of the opportunity and concept, as well as emphasis on business plan development

Similar to a shorter version of Stage Gate and an extended version of Agile

Emphasis on the development phase by separating it into two distinct parts – “Develop,” and “Realize”

Overly complex “Conceive” stage; too many processes

Stop Trying to Push a Square Peg into a Round Hole

As the table clearly demonstrates, none of the NPD models are a clean fit with all of the stages that are required to develop a complex B2B solution. The companies that we’ve seen that have significantly adapted their models to allow for the differences between a product and a solution -- Cisco, IBM, Otis Elevators, etc. – have proven that solutions development is indeed different from product development. They stopped trying to jam a square peg into a round hole years ago, which has proven to be more effective and efficient than simply following the NPD path. So…what is your solutions development process? Feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more about our NSD process.

shurley50 Author1: Steve Hurley, Managing Director at Solutions Insights.
Author2: Rahul Joshi, International Market Development Manager at Teshima International Corporation.

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