The drivers of success in new-product development
Robert G. Coopera,b,⁎
a Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business Administration, USA
b DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Canada
A B S T R A C T
Why are some new products so successful and some companies outstanding performers in new-product development? The article identifies success factors from
numerous research studies into NPD (new-product development) performance in industry. Three categories of success drivers have been defined. First, success
drivers, that explain the success of individual new-product projects, are more tactical: They capture the characteristics of new product projects, such as certain
executional best practices (building in voice-of-customer; doing the front-end homework; and adopting a global orientation for the project), and well as the nature of
the product itself (a compelling value proposition, for example). A second category is drivers of success at the business level: They include organizational and
strategic factors, such as the business’s innovation strategy and how the firm makes its R&D investment decisions; how it organizes for NPD; climate and culture; and
leadership The third category of success divers identified is the systems and methods the firm has in place for managing NPD, for example gating systems, Agile
development approaches, and ideation methods. The details of each of these 20 success drivers, along with their managerial implications, are outlined in the article.
1. In search of the success
What are the factors that underlie new-product success? And why
are some new products so successful and some companies such outstanding
performers in product development? The answer is complex,
and certainly elusive for many – witness the high failure rates of new
products and the poor innovation performance in industry: About 40%
of new products are estimated to fail at launch, even after all the development
and testing work; out of every 7 to 10 new-product concepts,
only one is a commercial success; and only 13% of firms report that
their total new product efforts achieve their annual profit objectives
(Cooper, 2017b; Cooper, Edgett, & Kleinschmidt, 2004). Wide variances
exist around these and other performance statistics, however, with the
best performers doing dramatically better than the rest. This begs the
2. The scope and focus of this article
The current article and review is based largely on data from the
world of physical or manufactured new products (NPD). While new
service development (NSD) and software development are obviously
important sectors, the fact that in the U.S. manufacturers account for
70% of R&D spending, means that NPD (physical products) is very
much a vital area (NSF, National Science Foundation, 2014). Some of
the success factors or drivers, and some of the best practices, outlined in
the current article also have applicability to these other two sectors,
namely to software and service developments; but not all do, nor are
the relative impacts quite the same.
Note that results are obtained from studies of both B2B and B2C
firms, and across many industries within each category. While the
methods, approaches, and tools used for the conception, development,
testing, and launch of B2B and B2C products differ, there is no hard and
consistent evidence that the main success factors are significantly different
by industry or sector. For example, it’s important to have an
innovation strategy, do solid voice-of-customer research, and put together
effective cross-functional teams, regardless of the industry one is
in. In short, the factors that make new products successful are fairly
universal across industries.
The article identifies success factors from numerous research studies
into NPD (new-product development) performance in industry. The
impetus for this current article was a look back at two articles on this
topic written thirty years ago which appeared in this journal, and which
have been widely cited over the years – it is time for an update (Cooper,
1988; Cooper & Kleinschmidt, 1987). Some of the most revealing investigations
on success drivers have been the large-sample quantitative
studies of winning versus failed new products (for reviews, see Cooper,
2018, 2017a, 2013a; Montoya-Weiss & Calantone, 1994). This long
series of product studies began with Project SAPPHO in the early 1970s,
followed by the NewProd series of studies, and the Stanford Innovation
Project, and subsequently, studies in countries outside of North America
and Europe (Mishra, Kim, & Lee, 1996; Song & Parry, 1996). Additionally,
several large benchmarking studies of best practices within
firms have provided other insights into how to succeed at product innovation
(APQC, 2003; Cooper & Edgett, 2012).
Received 18 January 2018; Received in revised form 2 July 2018; Accepted 11 July 2018
⁎ Corresponding author at: 48 Brant Street, Oakville, ON L6K 2Z4, Canada.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Industrial Marketing Management xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
0019-8501/ © 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Please cite this article as: Cooper, R.G., Industrial Marketing Management (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2018.07.005
Twenty success drivers have been singled out in this article. Each of
these drivers has been cited in several notable studies, and/or are now
found in handbooks on product-development management. For reading
convenience, these 20 drivers are arbitrarily divided into three categories
(although some drivers cut across categories):
1. Success drivers of individual new product projects: These are tactical
and capture the characteristics of the new-product project or
the product itself (see Table 1).
2. Drivers of success for the business, including organizational and
strategic factors such as: the business’s innovation strategy and how
it makes its R&D investment decisions; climate and culture; leadership;
and how the firm organizes for NPD (see Table 2).
3. The systems and methods that the firm has in place for managing
NPD (see Table 3).
3. Success drivers of individual new-product projects
Why do so many new products fail and why do some succeed? And
is there a pattern? Seven drivers of success at the development-project
level have been identified by the research (Table 1).
3.1. Unique superior products
Delivering differentiated products with unique benefits and a compelling
value proposition for the customer and/or user distinguishes
new product winners from losers more often than any other single
factor. Such superior products have five times the success rate, over
four times the market share, and four times the profitability of “me
too,” copycat, reactive and ho-hum products with few differentiated
characteristics (APQC, 2003; Cooper, 2013a, 2017b, 2018; McNally,
Cavusgil, & Calantone, 2010).
What do superior products have in common? Winning products:
• are superior to competing products in terms of meeting users‘ needs,
offer unique features not available in competitive products, or solve
a problem the customer has with competitive products;
• feature good value for money for the customer, reduce the customer’s
total costs (high value-in-use), and boast excellent price/performance
• provide excellent product quality relative to competitors‘ products
(in terms of how the user measures quality); and
• offer product benefits or attributes that are highly visible and easily
perceived as useful by the customer.
The term “product superiority” used here relates to innovativeness,
but defined from an external perspective, that is, new to the market,
new to the world (rather than from an internal perceptive, namely new
to the firm), consistent with the definitions of “innovativeness” by
Garcia and Calantone (2002). One further note is that innovativeness
alone is not necessarily the key: A product might be “new and novel” in
the eyes of the customer – the first of its kind, never been seen before –
yet deliver little of benefit to that customer, hence is not superior in
meeting needs. The satellite phone is a case in point – clearly novel, but
few new benefits to the majority of potential users, hence a dud when
compared to cell (mobile) phones.
Note also that “product” is broadly defined here. It includes not only
the evident or physical product, but also the “extended product” – the
entire bundle of benefits associated with the product, including the
system supporting the product, product service, and technical support,
as well as the product’s image or branding. Further, product meaningfulness
concerns the benefits that users receive from buying and
using a new product, whereas product superiority captures the extent to
which a new product outperforms competing products (Rijsdijk,
Langerak, & Jan, 2011).
3.2. Market-driven products and voice-of-the-customer (VoC) built in
A thorough understanding of customers‘ needs and wants, the
competitive situation, and the nature of the market, is an essential
component of new product success (Cooper, 2013a, 2017b, 2018). This
tenet is supported by virtually every study of product success factors.
Conversely, failure to adopt a strong market orientation in product
innovation, unwillingness to undertake the needed market assessments,
and leaving the customer out of product development spell disaster.
These culprits are found in almost every study about why new products
Sadly, a strong market orientation is missing in the majority of
firms‘ new product projects. Detailed market studies are frequently
omitted from new product projects. In general, marketing activities are
Success drivers of individual new-product projects.
Source: Cooper (2013a, 2017b, 2018).
1. USP: A unique superior product – a differentiated product that delivers unique benefits and a compelling value proposition to the customer or user
2. VoC: Building in the voice-of-the-customer – market-driven and customer-focused NPD
3. Pre-work: Doing the homework and front-end loading – due diligence, done before Development gets underway
4. Definition: Sharp and early product definition to avoid scope creep and unstable specs, leading to higher success rates and faster to market
5. Iterations: Iterative or spiral development – build, test, obtain feedback, and revise – and putting something in front of the customer early and often, to get the product right
6. Global orientation: The world product – a global or “glocal” product concept (global platform, locally tailored) targeted at international markets (as opposed to the product
designed to meet home-country needs)
7. Launch: A well-conceived, properly executed launch – a solid, properly resourced marketing plan is at the heart of an effective launch
Drivers of success for businesses – organizational & strategic factors.
Source: Cooper (2013a, 2017b, 2018).
1. Innovation strategy: A product innovation and technology strategy to focus the business on the best strategic arenas and provide direction for ideation, product roadmaps,
and resource allocation
2. Focus: Doing fewer development projects (relative to resources available), better projects, and getting the right mix of projects by adopting systematic portfolio management
3. Leveraging core competencies: Step-out development projects, which take the business into new and unfamiliar markets and technologies, lead to higher failure rates
4. Targeting attractive markets: Certain elements of market attractiveness – market size, growth, and the competitive situation – useful as project selection criteria
5. Resources available: Innovation resources, both quantity (people, money), and quality (the right people) in place
6. Teams: Effective cross-functional teams to reduce time-to-market
7. Climate: The right climate and culture – one that supports and fosters innovation activities – one of the strongest discriminators between successful innovating firms and the
8. Leadership: Top management supporting and leading the innovation effector at every opportunity
R.G. Cooper Industrial Marketing Management xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
the most poorly executed activities of the entire new product process,
rated far below corresponding technical (engineering, design, R&D)
activities. Moreover, relatively few resources are spent on marketing
actions (except for the launch), accounting for less than 20% of total
A market focus should prevail throughout the entire new product
project (Griffin & Hauser, 1996) – see Fig. 1:
• Idea generation: The best ideas come from customers. Market-oriented
idea generation activities, such as focus groups and VoC research
(ethnography and site visits) to determine unmet needs or
problems, lead to superior ideas (Cooper & Dreher, 2010). Robust
ideas also come from innovative users and web-based customer inputs
• Product design: Customer inputs have a vital role in the design of the
product, determining the product’s requirements and specifications.
Often, market research, when done at all, is done too late – simply as
an after-the-fact check after the product design has already been
decided. But market research must be used as an input to the design
decisions, starting with a user needs-and-wants study (VoC research).
• Before pushing ahead with development: Best performers1 test the
product concept with the customer by presenting a representation of
the product – via models, mock-ups, “protocepts,”2 computer-aided
design (CAD) drawings, and even virtual prototypes – and gauging
the customer’s liking and purchase intent. It’s much cheaper to test
and learn before development begins than to develop the product
and then begin customer testing.
• Throughout the entire project: Customer inputs shouldn’t cease at
the completion of the pre-development market studies. Seeking
customer inputs and testing concepts or designs with the user is very
much an iterative process. By bringing the customer into the process
to view facets of the product via a series of rapid prototypes-andtests,
customer tests of working models, and field trials, the developer
verifies all assumptions about the winning product design.
3.3. Pre-development work – the homework
Homework is critical to winning. Studies reveal that the steps preceding
the actual development of the product make the difference between
winning and losing – the “game is won or lost in the first five
plays.” (Cooper, 2013a, 2017b, 2018; Edgett, 2011). Successful firms
spend about twice as much time and money as unsuccessful firms on
these vital front-end activities:
• preliminary market assessment – a quick market study to assess
The right systems, processes and methodologies.
1. Gating systems: A multistage, gated disciplined idea-to-launch system, such as Stage-Gate (as opposed to an ad hoc approach or no system at all), now used by most topperforming
B2B firms in NPD
2. Accelerating development: Many good ways to accelerate development projects, but not at the expense of quality of execution.
3. Agile: Agile methods from the software development world built into traditional gating systems to yield agility, adaptive response to changing requirements, and faster to
4. Generating breakthrough ideas: Effective ideation to feed the innovation funnel
5. Execution: Quality of execution of certain key tasks in the innovation process, from idea through launch
Fig. 1. A Strong Customer Focus Means Key Actions from Beginning to End in the Innovation Process.
Source: Cooper (2017b).
1 The terms “best performers” and “top performers” used throughout generally
capture the top 20% of firms in terms of their NPD results. A number of
metrics are typically used to gauge results in the studies cited, including percentage
of sales from new products; return-on-investment of R&D efforts; NP
success rates (such as proportion of new products hitting their sales and profit
targets); on time performance; and so on.
2 “Protocept”: Something between a “concept representation” and a working
product prototype ready for field trials or beta tests.
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market potential and desired product attributes;
• preliminary technical assessment – the first technical appraisal of
the project, assessing technical feasibility and identifying technical
• detailed market study, market research and VoC research (described
• detailed technical assessment – in-depth technical appraisal, establishing
proof of concept, intellectual property issues resolution, and
an operations or source-of-supply assessment; and
• business and financial analysis just before the investment decision to
go to full-scale development.
Another issue is the balance within the homework phase. Best
performers strike an appropriate balance between market/business-oriented
tasks and technical tasks. Worst performers tend to push ahead
on the technical side and pay lip-service to marketing and business issues
during the early phases of the project.
“More homework means longer development times” is a frequently
voiced complaint. However, research shows that homework pays for
itself in improved success rates and actually reduces development
1. A much higher likelihood of product failure results if the homework
2. Better project definition, the result of sound homework, speeds up
the development process. Poorly defined projects with vague targets
and moving goalposts incur time slippage as they enter the
3. Given the inevitable product design evolution that occurs during the
life of a project, ideally most of these design changes should be made
early, when they are less costly to correct. Pre-development homework
anticipates these changes and encourages their occurrence
earlier in the process.
As Toyota’s new products handbook (Morgan, 2005) recommends,
“Front-end load the project.” That is, undertake a higher proportion of
the project’s work in the early stages and ensure that no significant
project moves into the Development stage without the key market-facing
and technical homework actions listed above.
3.4. Sharp, early, and fact-based product definition
Two of the worst time wasters are project scope creep and unstable
product specs. Scope creep means that the definition of the project
constantly changes. The project might begin as a single-customer initiative,
then be targeted at multiple users, and finally end up being a
platform for a new family of products. Unstable product specs means
that the product definition – product requirements and specifications –
keeps changing throughout the Development stage. Thus, the technical
people chase elusive development targets – moving goalposts – and take
forever to get to the goal (Cooper, 2013a, 2017b).
Sharp, early, and fact-based product definition during the homework
phase is a solution. How well the product are defined before the
Development stage begins is a major success factor, impacting positively
on both profitability and reduced time to market. This definition
• the project’s scope;
• the target market;
• the product concept and the benefits to be delivered to the user
(including the value proposition);
• the positioning strategy (including the target price); and
• the product’s features, attributes, requirements, and high-level specifications
Unless this product definition is in place and fact-based, the odds of
1. Building in a definition step forces more attention on the front-end
homework, a key success driver.
2. The definition serves as a communication tool: all functional areas
have a clear definition of the product.
3. This definition provides clear objectives for the development
(technical) team members, so they can move more quickly to their
3.5. Iterative, spiral development – build, test, feedback, and revise
Spiral or iterative development is the way fast-paced project teams
handle the dynamic information process with fluid, changing information.
Spiral development helps the team get the product definition
and product right, in spite of the fact that some information is fluid and
even unreliable when the team moves into the Development stage,
particularly in rapidly changing markets.
Many businesses use too rigid and linear a process for product development.
The project team diligently visits customers in the pre-development
stages and determines customer requirements as best they
can. Front-end work is properly done, the product specs are determined,
and the product definition is fixed. Then development begins.
The world moves too fast today, however, to make a stable and rigid
product definition always possible. Often customers are not clear on
what they wanted (or needed), so it’s difficult to get an accurate product
definition prior to development. As Steve Jobs, never a proponent of
traditional market research, famously said, “People don’t know what
they want until you show it to them” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 567). And
sometimes requirements simply change in the time that passes between
the beginning and end of development, and thus the original product
definition is no longer valid. The result is a cycle back to development
to rethink the product’s design.
Smart project teams and businesses have made the idea-to-launch
system much more adaptive and make adjustments on the fly through
spiral or iterative development (Cooper, 2017b). These firms build in a
series of deliberate iterative steps whereby successive versions of the
product are shown to the customer to seek feedback and verification, as
shown via the spiral arrows in Fig. 2. Each iteration consists of:
• Build: Build something to show the customer – a representation of
the product, such as computer-generated graphics, a simulation. a
virtual-reality prototype, a protocept, a rapid prototype, a crude
working model, an early beta version, a pretotype, or an MVP3…
each version closer to the final product.
• Test: Test each version of the product with the customer.
• Feedback: Gather feedback on that version of the product from the
customer or user – what they like (or don’t like), and what value
• Revise: Reset your thinking about the value proposition, benefits
sought, and the product’s design based on the feedback, and move to
the next iteration (Cooper, 2014).
This spiral approach promotes experimentation, encouraging project
teams to fail often, fail fast, and fail cheaply. Not only do iterations
or spirals reduce market uncertainties, they also can be used to reduce
technical uncertainties by seeking technical solutions in an experimental,
iterative fashion. Moreover, there is strong evidence that this
spiral, iterative development is both feasible and works: 44.8% of bestperforming
businesses practice these “build-test-feedback-and-revise”
iterations with customers (but only 26.3% of firms on average do)
3 MVP or minimum viable product: a feature-limited product that can actually
be sold and thus generate revenue; more common in start-up and high-tech
businesses (Ries, 2011).
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(Cooper, 2012). And a study of leading B2B European manufacturers
revealed that, on average, between 3 and 4.5 versions of the product
were presented to validate the design with customers through the Development
and Testing stages, while product ideation-and-design contractors,
such as IDEO, iterated on average 15 times with the customer
per project (Sandmeier, Morrison, & Gassmann, 2010).
3.6. The world product – a global orientation
Corporate growth and profitability depend on a global business
strategy married to product innovation. In global markets, product
development plays a primary role in achieving a sustainable competitive
advantage (Kleinschmidt, de Brentani, & Salome, 2007). And
multinational firms that take a global approach to new-product development
outperform those that concentrate their R&D spending on their
home market (de Brentani & Kleinschmidt, 2004; de Brentani,
Kleinschmidt, & Salomo, 2010; The Economist, 2008; Kleinschmidt
et al., 2007). International products designed for and targeted at world
and nearest neighbor export markets are the best-performing new
products. By contrast, products designed for only the domestic market,
and later adjusted and sold to nearest neighbor export markets, fare
much worse. The magnitude of the differences between international
new products and domestic products is striking: 2 or 3:1 on various
The management implications of these and other studies is that
globalization of markets demands a global innovation culture and a
global innovation strategy (de Brentani & Kleinschmidt, 2015). To define
the new product’s market as domestic and a few nearby convenient
countries severely limits market opportunities. For maximum success in
product innovation, the objective must be to design for the world and
market to the world. Sadly, this international dimension is often overlooked
or, if included, is handled late in the development process or as a
This global orientation translates into defining the market as international
and designing products to meet international requirements,
not just domestic ones. The result is either a global product (one version
for the entire world) or a “glocal product” (one development effort, one
basic product or platform, but several product variants of it to satisfy
different international regions). A global orientation also means undertaking
VoC research, concept testing, and product testing in multiple
countries rather than just the domestic market, and tailored launch
plans in multiple countries. It also means employing a global project
team with team members in multiple countries – only one new product
project team in five is reported to be a global development team (de
Brentani et al., 2010; Kleinschmidt et al., 2007).
3.7. Planning and resourcing the launch
“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your
door,” said Emerson. But Emerson was a poet, not a businessman; not
only must the product be superior, but it also must be launched, marketed,
and supported in a proficient manner. A quality launch is
strongly linked to new product profitability, and effective after-sales
service is central to the successful launch of the new product (Di
Benedetto, 1999; Montoya-Weiss & Calantone, 1994; Song & Parry,
Good new products don’t sell themselves, and the launch should not
be treated as an afterthought to be handled late in the project. A wellintegrated
and properly targeted launch is the result of a finely tuned
marketing plan, proficiently executed. The launch must be properly
resourced in terms of both people and funds; too often, an otherwise
great new product fails to achieve its sales goals simply because of an
under-resourced launch. And those who will execute the launch – the
sales force, technical support people, and other front-line personnel –
should be engaged in the development of the market launch plan and
therefore should be members of the project team. This ensures valuable
input and insight into the design of the launch effort, availability of
resources when needed, and buy-in by those who must execute the
launch – elements critical to a successful launch (Hultink & Atuahene-
4. Drivers of success for businesses: organizational and strategic
Why are some businesses so much more successful at product innovation
than others? Huge differences in product development productivity
exist between the best and worst firms (Arthur D. Little,
2005). The top 25% of firms have 12 times the productivity in NPD,
realizing a huge $39 in new product sales per R&D dollar spent, while
the bottom 25% of firms achieve only $3.3. We continue to explore the
theme “drivers of success,” but focus on the business – see Table 2.
Fig. 2. Spiral Development—A Series of “Build-Test-Feedback-Revise” Iterations with Customers/Users—Gets the Product Right with No Time Wasted.
Source: Cooper (2017b).
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4.1. A product innovation and technology strategy for the business
A product innovation and technology strategy for this business
charts the way for NPD, and having a new product strategy is strongly
linked to positive performance (APQC, 2003; Cooper, 2011; Song, Im,
van der Bij, & Song, 2011). The ingredients of such a strategy with the
strongest positive impact on performance include (Cooper & Edgett,
• Clearly defined product innovation goals and objectives: for example,
specifying what percentage of the business’s sales or growth
will come from new products.
• The role of product innovation in achieving the overall businesses
goals, to link the product innovation goals to the business’s overall
• Strategic arenas defined – areas of strategic focus on which to
concentrate new product efforts. The goal is to select strategic
arenas rich with opportunities for innovation – those that will
generate the business’s future engines of growth (Cooper, 2011,
2017b). The great majority of businesses do designate strategic
arenas – markets, product areas, industry sectors, or technologies –
but evidence suggests that many are focused on traditional and
sterile areas that fail to yield the needed opportunities (Cooper,
• A product roadmap in place, which maps out a series of planned
development initiatives over time, often five to seven years into the
future. A roadmap is simply management’s view of how to get to
where they want to be or to achieve their desired objective (Albright
& Kappel, 2003; McMillan, 2003) and provides placemarks for
specific future development projects.
4.2. Focus and sharp project selection decisions – portfolio management
Most companies suffer from too many projects, often the wrong
projects, and not enough resources to mount an effective or timely effort
on each (Cooper, 2011, 2013a; Cooper & Edgett, 2002, 2006). This
stems from a lack of adequate project evaluation and prioritization,
with negative results:
• First, scarce and valuable resources are wasted on poor projects.
• Second, the truly deserving projects don’t receive the resources they
need, and so the good projects, starved for resources, move at a
crawl, or just don’t get done.
The desire to cull out bad projects, coupled with the need to focus
limited resources on the best projects, means that tough Go or Kill and
prioritization decisions must be made. This results in sharper focus,
higher success rates, and shorter times to market. Project evaluations,
however, are consistently cited as being poorly handled or non-existent:
Decisions involve the wrong people from the wrong functional areas; no
consistent criteria exist to screen or rank projects; and there is no will to
kill projects, so that projects are allowed to develop a “life of their
Smart firms have built in “tough gates with teeth” (Cooper, 2009).
The result is better focus: fewer but better development initiatives.
They have redesigned their idea-to-launch systems and created a funneling
process that successively weeds out poor projects. The use of
visible Go/Kill criteria at these gates improves decision effectiveness,
such as list of screening criteria in a scorecard format, namely a scoring
model (Cooper & Edgett, 2006; Cooper, Edgett, & Kleinschmidt, 2002a,
Selecting high-value new product projects is only part of the task,
however. Other portfolio goals are selecting the right mix and balance
of projects in the development portfolio, and ensuring strategic alignment
in the portfolio: that the business’s spending on product innovation
mirrors its strategic priorities. Many businesses have moved to
more formal portfolio management systems to help allocate resources
effectively and to prioritize new product projects (Cooper et al., 2002a,
2002b). In order to ensure the right mix and balance of development
projects, some leading firms have adopted “Strategic Buckets”, earmarking
buckets of resources targeted at different project types or
different strategic arenas (Cooper, 2013b, 2017b).
4.3. Leveraging core competencies – synergy and familiarity
“Attack from a position of strength” may be an old adage, but it
applies to new product management. When synergy with the base
business is lacking, new products fare poorly on average (Cooper,
2013a, 2017b; Montoya-Weiss & Calantone, 1994; Song & Parry, 1996).
Synergy, or leverage, is a familiar term, but exactly how does it translate
in the context of new products? Synergy means having a strong fit
between the needs of the new product project and the resources,
competencies, and experience of the firm in terms of:
• R&D or technology resources (ideally the new product should
leverage the business’s existing technology competencies);
• marketing, sales force and distribution (channel) resources;
• branding, image and marketing communications and promotional
• manufacturing, operations or source-of-supply capabilities and resources;
• technical support and customer service resources; and
• management capabilities.
These six synergy or leverage ingredients become important
checklist items in a scoring model to prioritize new product projects. If
the “leverage score” is low, then there must be other compelling reasons
to proceed with the project. Leverage is not essential, but it does improve
the odds of winning.
“Familiarity” is a parallel concept and has its basis in the popular
Roberts’s familiarity matrix (Roberts & Berry, 1985). Some new product
projects take the company into unfamiliar territory – a product category
new to the firm; new customers with unfamiliar needs; unfamiliar
technology; new sales force, channels and servicing requirements; or an
unfamiliar manufacturing process. And the business often pays the
price: Step-out projects are riskier and have higher failure rates due to
lack of experience, knowledge, skills, and resources.
The negative impact here is not as strong as for most success drivers,
however. New and unfamiliar territory certainly results in lower success
rates and profitability on average, but the success rates are not dramatically
lower. The message is this: Sometimes it is necessary to
venture into new and unfamiliar markets, technologies, or manufacturing
processes and areas where leverage may be limited (e.g., some
key skills or resources are missing). Success rates will suffer, but the
pay-offs may be worth the cost.
Further, for such step-out projects, strategies such as collaborative
development and open innovation may help the developer acquire the
necessary and missing resources, skills, and knowledge (Chesbrough,
2006; Docherty, 2006). Indeed resources from partner firms – from
customers, other developer-firms, and even suppliers – may also have a
positive impact on other success factors, such as effective cross-functional
teams (team members available from the partner), voice-of-customer
work, and effective launches.
Early and extensive supplier involvement in NPD projects has the
potential to improve development effectiveness and efficiency
(Johnsen, 2009). Often the developing firm’s suppliers can provide
necessary but missing resources, skills and capacities. For example, the
supplier may possess technology essential for the development of the
new product and share it with their customer; and a suppliers production
capabilities may also be used to advantage to supply key
components or ingredients. These resources from suppliers must be
considered among the total set of “resource collections” available to the
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project (Håkansson & Waluszewski, 2002). Suppliers may even be
willing to share new products ideas with customers (Wagner, 2012).
Partnering does pose risks, however: Open innovation arrangements
and collaborative developments are not always a “win win” situation
for both parties. Conflicts and misalignments can occur due to misunderstandings,
cultural differences, and even a lack of trust.
Additionally, there is no strong evidence to suggest that partnering or
collaborative NPD projects are more successful than those done alone
(although some evidence exists that the project may not have been done
at all were it not for the partnership). (Campbell & Cooper, 1999;
Håkansson & Waluszewski, 2002).
4.4. Targeting attractive markets
Market attractiveness is an important strategic variable and plays a
role in notable strategy models such as Porter’s “five forces” model and
the two-dimensional GE-McKinsey map or business portfolio grid.
Market attractiveness is also important for new products: New products
targeted at more attractive markets are more successful (Cooper, 2013a,
2017b; Montoya-Weiss & Calantone, 1994; Song & Parry, 1996). Thus,
market attractiveness should be considered in project selection and
There are two dimensions to market attractiveness:
• Market potential: Positive market environments, namely, large and
growing markets with large long-term potential and where the
purchase is important to the customer.
• Competitive situation: Negative markets characterized by intense
price competition and low margins and competitors with strong
products, capable competitive sales forces, channel systems, and
Both elements of market attractiveness – market potential and
competitive situation – impact new product fortunes and both should be
considered as criteria for project selection and prioritization.
4.5. The resources in place
Too many projects suffer from a lack of time and financial commitment.
The predictable result is much higher failure rates (APQC,
2003; Cooper, 2017b). As the quest for profits has intensified, companies
often have responded by restructuring and cost-cutting – doing
more with less – and so resources are limited. Also, many firms try to do
too many projects for the resources available: an inability to say “no” to
mediocre development projects or to kill bad ones. The resulting resource
crunch takes its toll and is the root cause for much of what ails
product development: a lack of VoC; inadequate front-end homework;
ineffective launches; and overemphasis on simple, fast, and cheap
projects (Cooper & Edgett, 2003).
Best-practice companies commit the necessary resources to new
products, much more so than most firms. While new product resources
are limited across the board – with less than 30% of businesses indicating
that they have sufficient NPD resources in four key functional
areas – the best performers appear to be much better resourced (APQC,
2003; Cooper & Edgett, 2003). Equally important, these resources are
focused and dedicated, with project team members not multi-tasking
(not working on too many projects or tasks). Indeed, about half of the
best performers have a dedicated product innovation group whose fulltime
job is to work on new product projects.
4.6. Effective cross-functional teams
Product innovation is very much a team effort. Do a post-mortem on
any bungled new product project and invariably you’ll find each functional
area doing its own piece of the project with very little communication
between functional areas (a fiefdom mentality) and no real
commitment of team members to the project. Many studies concur that
the way the project team is organized and functions strongly influences
project outcomes (Cooper, 2011, 2013a, 2017b; Nakata & Im, 2010;
Valle & Avella, 2003). Best performers organize their new product
project teams as follows:
• Every significant new product project has a clearly assigned project
team: people who are part of the project and do work for it. And the
project team is cross-functional with team members from R&D,
Sales, Marketing, and Operations, a practice now embraced by the
majority of businesses. Team members are not just representatives
of their functions, but rather true members of the project team,
shedding their functional loyalties and working together to a
• The project team remains on the project from beginning to end, not
just for a short period or a single phase. Almost half of businesses
use this “end-to-end” team approach and it is particularly evident
among the best performers.
• There is a clearly identified project leader – a team member who is
in charge and responsible for driving the project, much like the
captain of a football team. The project leader is responsible for the
project from idea to launch, carrying the project right through the
process and not just for one or a few stages.
• A central shared-information system for project team members is in
place: an IT system that permits sharing of project information and
allows project team members to work effectively together, across
functions, locations, and even countries.
• Project teams are accountable for their project’s end result – for
example, for ensuring that projects meet profit, revenue targets, and
time targets. Team accountability is a key best practice, separating
the best from the worst performers.
Product development must be run as a multidisciplinary, crossfunctional
effort. While the ingredients of good organizational design
should be familiar, surprisingly many businesses have yet to get the
4.7. The right environment – climate and culture
A positive climate for innovation is one of the top three success
factors that distinguishes top-performing businesses in new product
development, with a huge impact on performance results. Such a climate
has been found to have many attributes, including (APQC, 2003;
Cooper, 2011, 2013a; Edgett, 2011):
• senior management strongly and passionately supporting innovation
in the business;
• “intrepreneurs” (internal entrepreneurs) and risk-taking behavior
• senior management not afraid to invest in the occasional risky
• new product successes rewarded or recognized (and failures not
• team efforts recognized rather than individuals;
• senior managers refraining from micro-managing projects and
second-guessing the project team;
• open project review meetings with senior people (the entire project
• idea generators recognized or rewarded;
• time allowed for creative people to work on projects of their own
free choice (projects on-the-side); and
• employing skunk works and allowing some unofficial projects
(projects done “outside the system”).
Most businesses are quite weak on almost all of these elements of a
positive climate, with typically less than one-third of businesses
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employing any one of these practices. Best performers embrace these
practices much more so.
4.8. Top management support
Top management’s main role is to set the stage for product innovation,
to be a behind-the-scenes facilitator and much less an actor
front and center (APQC, 2003; Cooper, 2011, 2013a; Edgett, 2011). In
best-performing businesses, senior management makes a long-term
commitment to product innovation as a source of growth. It develops a
vision, objectives, and a strategy for product innovation. It makes
available the necessary resources for product development and ensures
that they aren’t diverted to more immediate needs in times of shortage.
And senior management commits to a disciplined idea-to-launch system
to drive products to market. Most important, senior management is
engaged in the new product process, reviewing projects, making timely
and firm Go/Kill decisions, and if Go, making resource commitments to
project teams. And management empowers project teams and supports
committed champions by acting as mentors, facilitators, “godfathers,”
or sponsors of project leaders and teams.
5. The right systems and processes
The tactics, systems, methods, and procedures that businesses put in
place, and how well they are executed, often hold the key to newproduct
success. For example, today there is much excitement in the
business community about new Agile development methodologies from
the software world being built into the development of B2B manufactured
products, as well as “open innovation”, success drivers both
listed in Table 3.
5.1. A multistage, disciplined idea-to-launch system
A systematic idea-to-launch methodology, such as a Stage-Gate®
system,4 is the solution many companies have adopted in order to
overcome the deficiencies that plague new product efforts (Cooper,
2013a, 2017b, 2018; Edgett, 2011; Griffin, 1997; Lynn, Skov, & Abel,
1999; Menke, 1997). Stage-Gate systems are simply roadmaps or
“playbooks” for successfully and efficiently driving new products from
idea to launch. An APQC benchmarking study revealed that 88% of US
businesses employ such a process, and identified the stage-and-gate
process as one of the strongest best practices, employed by almost every
best-performing business (Cooper & Edgett, 2012). The payoffs of such
processes have been frequently reported: improved teamwork; less recycling
and rework; improved success rates; earlier detection of failures;
a better launch; and even shorter cycle times.
The goal of a robust idea-to-launch system is to integrate the best
practices outlined above into a single model. A typical gating system for
major projects, as shown in Fig. 1, breaks the innovation process into
five or six stages (Cooper, 2013a, 2017b). Preceding each stage in Fig. 1
is a gate. These gates are the quality control checkpoints in the system:
At each gate, the project team meets with senior management, the
gatekeepers, to seek approval and resources for their project for the
next stage. The gates thus open the door for the project to proceed and
commit the necessary resources – people and funds – to the project
Gating systems have evolved over the years and now include new
practices such as (Cooper, 2008, 2014, 2017b):
• A scalable process – for example, Lite and XPress versions of Stage-
Gate for lower-risk and smaller projects (see Fig. 3), and even different
versions of Stage-Gate to handle different types of
development projects, such as Stage-Gate-TD for technology platform
developments (Ajamian & Koen, 2002; Cooper, 2003).
• A leaner idea-to-launch system – removing all waste and building in
continuous improvement – by utilizing value stream analysis borrowed
from the field of “lean manufacturing”.
• Adapting the system to accommodate open innovation (Grölund,
Rönneberg, & Frishammar, 2010).
• Integration with the total Product Life Cycle management – from
idea all the way through product exit many years later.
• An adaptive and iterative process – for example, by using iterative or
spiral development (above).
• An automated idea-to-launch system, via software solutions that
handle everything including idea management, navigating the development
process, portfolio management, and resource management.
5.2. Speed – but not at the expense of quality of execution
Speed offers the competitive advantage of being first on the market,
namely “first mover advantage”. Speed means less likelihood that the
market situation has changed. And speed results in a quicker realization
of profits. Therefore, the goal of reducing the development cycle time is
Note, however, that speed is only an interim objective, the ultimate
goal being profitability. While studies reveal that speed and profitability
are connected, the relationship is anything but one to one
(Griffin, 2002). Further, there is a dark side to the emphasis on speed
(Crawford, 1992). Often the methods used to reduce development time
yield precisely the opposite effect and in many cases are very costly:
They are at odds with sound management practices. The objective remains
successful products, not a series of fast failures. Additionally,
overemphasis on speed has led to trivialization of product development
in some firms – too many product modifications and line extensions that
can be done quickly, but result in a shortage of truly innovative products
Sound principles that project teams embrace in order to reduce
time-to-market, some highlighted above, include the following (Cooper,
• Doing the front-end homework and developing early and fact-based
product definition saves time downstream.
• Building in quality-of-execution at every stage of the project: The
best way to save time is by avoiding having to cycle back and do it a
• Employing effective cross-functional teams: “Rip apart a badly developed
project and you will unfailingly find 75 percent of slippage
attributable to “siloing” (sending memos up and down vertical organizational
“silos” or “stovepipes” for decisions) and sequential
problem solving” (Peters, 1988).
• Using parallel processing (undertaking tasks concurrently, such as
concurrent engineering), and even overlapping stages – moving long
lead-time forward, and moving ahead with partial information. The
relay race, sequential, or series approach to product development is
antiquated and inappropriate for today’s fast-paced projects.
• Using spiral or iterative development: These build-test-feedbackrevise
iterations get the product right earlier and make needed adjustments
long before formal product testing begin.
• Prioritizing and focusing in order to undertake fewer projects with
higher value. By concentrating resources on the truly deserving
projects, not only will the work be done better, it will be done faster.
• Utilizing an Agile approach, which yields both time-to-market reduction
and increased NPD productivity (Cooper & Sommer, 2016a,
2016b) – next section.
4 Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of the author, of R.G. Cooper &
Associates Inc., and of Stage-Gate International Inc. in various countries.
R.G. Cooper Industrial Marketing Management xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
5.3. Building agile into traditional B2B gating systems
Agile software development is a group of software development
methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where
requirements and software solutions evolve through collaboration between
self-organizing, cross-functional teams. Agile promotes adaptive
planning, evolutionary development and delivery; utilizes a time-boxed
iterative approach; and encourages rapid and flexible response to
change. The Agile Manifesto introduced the term in 2001 (Beck et al.,
In the Scrum version of Agile, a software development project
consists of a number of iterations called sprints, which are time-boxed
and very short, typically 2–4 weeks. Each sprint produces a working
product (executable software code that works) that can be demonstrated
to stakeholders. An iteration may not add enough functionality
to warrant a market release, but the goal is to have a potentially
available release at the end of each sprint; multiple sprints are usually
required to release a product or new features.
Larger software developers with existing development systems
began integrating Agile into their traditional gated development processes
with considerable success (Karlström & Runeson, 2005, 2006):
The two systems dovetailed nicely. More recently, manufacturers of
physical products (hardware), especially B2B firms, have successfully
built elements of this Agile methodology into their traditional gating
models (Ovesen & Sommer, 2015; Sommer, Hedegaard, Dukovska-
Popovska, & Steger-Jensen, 2015). Agile is most often initially employed
in two stages, namely, Development and Testing in Fig. 4, via a
series of 2–4 week sprints; with experience, manufacturing firms also
apply Agile to the entire idea-to-launch process to create a true Agile-
Stage-Gate hybrid model (Cooper, 2016; Cooper & Sommer, 2016a,
2016b). Sprints begin with a sprint planning meeting; daily scrums
(project team meetings) are held during the sprint, facilitated by a
scrum master; and each sprint ends with a product demo (to management
and customers) and a sprint retrospect.
A few adjustments must be made when applying Agile to B2B
physical products. When contrasted to software development, hardware
development is usually not as divisible (it is usually not possible to have
anything that actually functions within a few weeks, as in the software
world). Thus, a sprint does not build a working product, but a product
version somewhere between a “virtual product” through to a “ready-totrial
prototype” – something to show the customer to seek feedback,
much as was described in spiral development above (Cooper, 2014). At
the end of every 2–4 week sprint, however, the team must deliver
something tangible that can be demo’d (see the IMM article by Cooper &
The advantages of Agile-Stage-Gate are speed (sprints are timeboxed
with no relaxation of the timeline); dedicated teams (team
members are usually 100% dedicated to the one project); much better
communication within the team (via daily scrums and a dedicated team
residing in one location); and constant customer feedback with strategic
pivots (revisions), if needed (Sommer et al., 2015). Early adopters of
this new hybrid Agile-Stage-Gate system report positive results, but
implementation challenges do exist, to which many firms have found
solutions (Cooper & Sommer, 2016b, 2018).
5.4. Effective ideation
Great ideas are the foundation for great new products. Thus, increasingly
more attention is being devoted to the “fuzzy front-end” of
the innovation process. Idea generation and idea handling are key
components. Studies indicate that although internal methods of ideation
(e.g., using one’s own employees) are the most popular, they are
not the most effective, on average (Cooper & Edgett, 2008). Voice-ofcustomer
methods generally are rated the most effective for generating
breakthrough ideas and many firms build VoC into the earliest stages of
their idea-to-launch systems to generate great ideas (Cooper & Dreher,
• Customer visit teams – typically a cross-functional team of 2–3
people undertaking a systematic visitation program with key purchase
influencers in a limited number of representative customers.
• Lead user analysis – identifying leading or innovative users (ahead
Fig. 3. Stage-Gate Is Context Based and Scalable—One Size Does Not Fit All.
Source: Cooper (2017b).
R.G. Cooper Industrial Marketing Management xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
of the wave) and working with them (typically in workshop format)
to develop new product concepts (Lilien, Morrison, Searls, Sonnack,
& von Hippel, 2002; von Hippel, Ogawa, & de Jong, 2011).
• Ethnography – camping out with customers to observe behaviors
(cultural anthropology), and in so doing, understanding their unspoken,
unmet and often unknown needs.
• Focus groups – with groups of customers (often consumers) to
identify problems, desires, needs, and wants.
• Design thinking, whereby users‘ needs are understood through VoC
(for example, ethnography) and a series of product versions are
immediately tested with users (Brown, 2008).
Many commercially important products are initially thought of and
even prototyped by users rather than by suppliers (Lilien et al., 2002;
von Hippel, Thomke, & Sonnack, 1999). Such products tend to be developed
by “lead users” – innovative companies, organizations, or individuals
that are well ahead of market trends and even have needs that
go far beyond the average user. The challenge is to track down lead
users, who are by definition rare – those who are ahead of the wave.
Customer focused innovation has received much attention in recent
years, and has been made possible in part because of IT and Internet
tools. Here, customers or users are invited to help the product developer
design the next new product, and in so doing, provide many ideas for
significant product improvements (von Hippel et al., 2011). Indeed
consumers were found to be 2.4 times more efficient at developing
significant innovations than producers, and much more prolific and
efficient product developers when the field is in its early stages
(Hienerth, von Hippel, & Jensen, 2012).
Strategic methods also are positively rated and include exploiting
disruptive technologies (Christensen, 2000) and peripheral visioning
(Day & Schoemaker, 2005). “Open innovation” – looking outside one’s
company – is another valuable source of new product ideas
(Chesbrough, 2006; Docherty, 2006). Through open innovation, the
developer obtains knowledge and resources from sources external to the
company: ideas for new products; IP and outsourced development
work; marketing and launch resources; and even licensed products
ready to sell. But most firms are not well positioned to solicit or handle
outside ideas and IP. Engaging suppliers in the fuzzy front end of the
development project provides ideas to the developer, as well as technical
insights: A strong positive relationship exists between supplier
integration in the fuzzy front end and NPD project performance
(Wagner, 2012). Thus, it is important to adapt the firm’s processes and
systems for open innovation in order to encourage the inclusion of
ideas, IP, R&D work, and even fully developed products from outside
the firm (Docherty, 2006; Grölund et al., 2010).
5.5. Quality of execution
“Do it right the first time” is an old adage, referring to the fact that
poor quality-of-execution usually results in much waste by having to go
back to fix things. Sadly, quality-of-execution is notably lacking in
many new product projects. Beginning decades ago, the causes of new
product failure were identified, and revealed serious deficiencies in the
way new product projects were executed: a lack of market research,
poorly implemented launches, weak business cases, and so on. One
early study of new product failures showed that market research was
poorly done in 73% of projects, product launches were weak in 54%,
and product testing deficient in 49% of the product failures studied.
The front-end of the innovation process tends to be where most of
the weaknesses occur (APQC, 2003; Cooper, 2017b). For example, only
18% of firms consistently execute the VoC (market research) well; 27%
carry out the concept tests well; and only 26% undertake the business
analysis well. What really stands out in the research is how much better
the top performing businesses execute on every task in a typical new
product project – better by as much as 4:1.
The management implications are clear. First, quality-of-execution
really does make a difference in new-product performance. Second, it is
notably lacking in too many firms, too many projects, and across too
many key tasks. Third, the weakest areas are the front-end (pre-development)
and the business and marketing related tasks (technical tasks
are much stronger). Quality can be built into any process, whether it is
a manufacturing process or an innovation process, and top firms promote
quality of execution in new-product projects: a project team with
capable and trained people; dedicated team members with time available
to do a quality job; management mentoring and support; a clear
innovation process with useful guidelines for the project team; and
quality checks or “gates” duri
The drivers of success in new-product development