How Long Should New Product Development Actually Take? 


When it comes to design industry standards, there are plenty of rules left unwritten; for new graduates just starting in the corporate world, such career knowledge can feel especially foreign. This is one reason why it’s especially helpful to have a resource like the Core77 discussion boards to get in touch with designers of all ages and disciplines in order to get an experienced and well-rounded lay of the land. 

For discussion board user and new design graduate AVClub, his most pressing question at hand has to do with timelines. As the lone in-house designer at his first job since graduating, he doesn’t have a sounding board of designers to rely on so asked some Core77 discussion board experts their thoughts on the topic. AVClub writes,

“I am working my first job out of school (aside from various internships I completed while in school) at a company where I am a single internal designer, who works with a few outside designers. I really love what I am doing and have had awesome opportunities thus far and have learned a lot from the designers I work with. One thing I was curious about is if anyone would be able to share approximate times for tasks that they complete. For instance, how long do you take to sketch concepts for a product? etc. My gut tells me ‘it depends’ but my org has been inquiring so they can accurately gauge timelines with the product manager (engineering background) and sales, etc. It would be great to know generic project timelines, if you are able to share.”

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Unsurprisingly, the responses to this question were varied. Participants like Greenman noted the value of paying attention to this information and recording your own experiences over time:

“Good question, and a smart one to ask so early in your career. If you get proficient in tracking time spent, then you can better forecast how long projects will take, the more projects that you do, the more accurately you will become and estimating your time. This is valuable information to the money people and it can help you make cases for all sorts of things like faster design tools, scaling project scope, or even hiring more designers. The answer really is “it depends”, and some of the things it depends on are the type of product and the scope of the project.

If you aren’t doing so already, I would recommend that you start tracking your time for all tasks, that includes meetings and time spent on revisions and design changes.”

The one consensus seemed to be that time spent certainly depends on the scope of a project. Trusted Core77-er yo even put together a handy list of time estimates for each step in the design process:

design research: 4-5 weeks depending on complexity

research synthesis and cross disciplinary workshop: 1-2 weeks

initial concept archetype exploration with down select session: 2-3 weeks

product concept sketching: 2 weeks

concept refinement: 2 weeks

design CAD: depends on how complex and how much internals have being worked in parallel

final design model production: 4-5 weeks

design revisions and CMF: 2 weeks

design for production: this can be long depending on where engineering is in the process but ideally 3-4 weeks

design oversight of NPD: until MP1 (typically 12 months)

Obviously other things can be done in parallel. The most intense time being up front from research to CMF documentation. Call that 3-4 months.”

It’s important to keep in mind though, as rkuchinsky points out, different company operations, sizes, and philosophies can significantly affect the conventional flow of product development:

“Not only does it depend on the project, and the team/skills, it depends on the organization. I’ve worked in pretty lean organizations with a solid/experienced team and would say things got done in 50% of the time as above. As a consultant, I might do the work in 1/3 of the time.

If you track things out, you might be surprised to see how long “actual work” takes, vs. time spent talking about it, meeting about it, planning the planning process for it, tracking it, etc.

In a larger organization with a big team and management/review structure things could easily take 200%+ of the above. I recall interviewing once in a large multinational organization and presenting some work my team (of 3 including myself) had done. The interviewers commented that the work was great and asked about the other teams involved and how many years the project had taken. They were shocked when I told them that we had done everything from product planning, to design, development, marketing, packaging, etc. from initial plan to retail in a 9 month window. They told me that it would have taken them 1.5 years typically using 3-4 teams (marketing, design, development, etc.) of 5-10 people each.

We want to hear what you think—do you feel the estimates presented here are accurate? Any more tips for new designers coming into the field on how to wow clients and bosses with their designs? Comment in the thread below or on the original discussion board to get in on the conversation!





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