Association Articles


Changes which take place in member needs or evolving economic and competitive conditions make product innovation a necessity for maintaining a healthy association despite the high costs and high failure rates associated with new product development.

Where do new products come from? Listening! Ideas typically stem from several common sources, member research, the board of directors, members' suggestions or complaints, staff, and even our competition. Some associations go to lengths using separate creative groups or executive brainstorming sessions for ideas.

Nine out of ten association executives I've spoken with on the subject usually have the same answer, they wait until they hear that "OH WOW" from their creative subconscious! Don't wait for the Mustang of your industry, be prepared for opportunity.

Product Innovation Planning is a powerful competitive tool on the path to first class performance. It is important to realize we are talking about a process, a series of preplanning sessions that culminates in a consensus single set of plans for the association.

So how do we get to that consensus? To make Productive Innovation Planning really work, we have produced a five-step procedure:

    1. Collect data
    2. Access the demand
    3. Access the production capabilities
    4. Hold partnership meetings all those involved in the project should be considered partners in the project, and
    5. Conduct a formal SOP meeting.

In the first step, collecting data provides us with a picture of where we are. This is a particularly sensitive stage, in many ways the most critical, and at first is filled with considerable uncertainty. In this stage, the product or service takes shape conceptually from what has been determined as a need or new market niche. Marketing plans are formulated and costs, expected sales, and profits are projected. The second step is access in the demand, with the object of arriving as a preliminary demand plan, including the forecasts, if any. We will be looking at current quotation, historical sales, trends, distribution, inventory, anything that relates to future demand.

Next we perform the same function to determine capability. The preliminary demand plan is compared to production capability.

Step four is the partnership meeting with staff managers from affected departments, committee members, outside contractors when possible to arrive at alternatives for the executive committee. Every plan develops plans along the way which may offer attractive alternatives or adjuncts to existing products or services.

The final step is the executive committee meeting to review alternatives and make critical choices.

To give you and example of what a powerful tool this process can be, let's zoom in on the partnership meeting. This session brings together aspects of marketing, sales, finance and manufacturing functions, taking a realistic look at forecasted demands and production capabilities. Basically, were looking at what we would like to do and figuring out what we can do. A list of alternatives is prepared for the executive committee. At the formal planning meeting, the executive committee has the opportunity to study the plan, with its alternatives, and eventually choosing a plan supported by the committee involved and the association's staff.

This scenario produces two partnerships; a horizontal partnership between your managers and contractors, and a vertical partnership between association's manager and the executive committee. We have an acceptance of the plan at all levels and across departments. The people who created the plan are the people who are going to have to carry it out. Participatory management becomes more that an empty slogan.

Product Innovation Planning provides and excellent vehicle for association executives to get the issues and plans to all association's departments and committees to insure all input is considered before decisions are made. It is the Product Innovation Planning concept that takes new product and service development to providing an effective way to manage your association. It is, in fact, a very effective mechanism for inter-association communication.

E-Mail J.J. Prunty