“Product evolution” is a term used by companies who have the vision to not only see a product idea, but how that product can evolve over time.  It’s essentially the idea of mapping out, often before the first product is even manufactured, what future iterations of a product might be as it improves and grows. The foundation of the method is based on a Russian system called “TRIZ” (a Russian acronym). According to Wikipedia, TRIZ presents a systematic approach for understanding and defining challenging problems: difficult problems require an inventive solution, and TRIZ provides a range of strategies and tools for finding these inventive solutions. The central purpose of TRIZ-based analysis is to systematically apply the strategies and tools to find superior solutions that overcome the need for a compromise or trade-off between the two elements.

Keep in mind that the concept of product evolution applies to products changing physically over time, but serving the same function such as the broom and dustpan being replaced by the vacuum cleaner or an upright vacuum cleaner being replaced by a Roomba. Same function, but physical change in the product design.

On a beginner’s level, TRIZ is used to solve technical and administrative problems. On a more advanced level, the system allows for ‘prediction’ of the natural trends of engineering systems evolution. This is critical to organizations who have a vision 5, 10 or even 15 years out, and want to start the planning process now, based on consumer demand.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a system that anyone can learn in a day, or even a week, so many engineers shy away from it, seeing it as too much investment in time to learn (there are less than 1,000 in the world certified in this). However, as an organization, if you’re engaging with an engineering services professional, it’s extremely valuable to work with one trained in product evolution. They can partner with you and your team to help you see the long term vision of our product, the challenges and the benefits, and together understand what the future growth of the product is. Does this product vision have 2, 3 or even for technology generations potential? What would the market be and is it worth building this vision into a long-term strategic plan for the organization?

In the past 10 years or so, several corporations across the United States have started to implement some of the TRIZ tools into their organizations. If done properly, it is a VERY powerful tool in the conceptual development phases of a product, and technology roadmap (i.e. engineering evolution), and even administrative problems (i.e. management issues). Unfortunately, most organizations still have not embraced this concept, or even know it exists.

To teach these methods to organizations entails a 120-hour course to get the basics. With this system, engineers trained in product evolution can normally create the ‘technology roadmap” for a client within a day or less that shows them how their products will evolve over the next 2-3 technology generations. Nine out of 10 times, that technology management roadmap really helps them drive their strategic planning with regards to technology, engineering, and ultimately their business. Developing a roadmap has three major uses. It helps reach a consensus about a set of needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs, it provides a mechanism to help forecast technology developments, and it provides a framework to help plan and coordinate technology developments.

Having the ability to map out that kind of product evolution is a huge competitive edge for companies looking to stand out in an often crowded market.

Morten Jensen
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