New product development practices and early-stage firms: Two in-depth case studies

Tucker J. Marion, John H. Friar, Timothy W. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


New product development practices (NPD) have been well studied for decades in large, established companies. Implementation of best practices such as predevelopment market planning and cross-functional teams have been positively correlated with product and project success over a variety of measures. However, for small new ventures, field research into ground-level adoption of NPD practices is lacking. Because of the risks associated with missteps in new product development and the potential for firm failure, understanding NPD within the new venture context is critical. Through in-depth case research, this paper investigates two successful physical product-based early-stage firms' development processes versus large established firm norms. The research focuses on the start-up adoption of commonly prescribed management processes to improve NPD, such as cross-functional teams, use of market planning during innovation development, and the use of structured processes to guide the development team. This research has several theoretical implications. The first finding is that in comparing the innovation processes of these firms to large, established firms, the study found several key differences from the large firm paradigm. These differences in development approach from what is prescribed for large, established firms are driven by necessity from a scarcity of resources. These new firms simply did not have the resources (financial or human) to create multi- or cross-functional teams or organizations in the traditional sense for their first product. Use of virtual resources was pervasive. Founders also played multiple roles concurrently in the organization, as opposed to relying on functional departments so common in large firms. The NPD process used by both firms was informal-much more skeletal than commonly recommended structured processes. The data indicated that these firms put less focus on managing the process and more emphasis on managing their goals (the main driver being getting the first product to market). In addition to little or no written procedures being used, development meetings did not run to specific paper-based deliverables or defined steps. In terms of market and user insight, these activities were primarily performed inside the core team-using methods that again were distinctive in their approach. What drove a project to completion was relying on team experience or a "learn as you go approach." Again, the driver for this type of truncated market research approach was a lack of resources and need to increase the project's speed-to-market. Both firms in our study were highly successful, from not only an NPD efficiency standpoint but also effectiveness. The second broad finding we draw from this work is that there are lessons to be learned from start-ups for large, established firms seeking ever-increasing efficiency. We have found that small empowered teams leading projects substantial in scope can be extremely effective when roles are expanded, decision power is ground-level, and there is little emphasis on defined processes. This exploratory research highlights the unique aspects of NPD within small early-stage firms, and highlights areas of further research and management implications for both small new ventures and large established firms seeking to increase NPD efficiency and effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-654
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Product Innovation Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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