Pre-Project Planning


The purpose of this activity is to define the direction of the project, to understand the market that the project targets and to plan for gathering needs from customers within that market. Effective new product development requires an understanding of the market that the product is targeting. This includes specifying who the customer is, uncovering the demographics of the market and analyzing the competition. It also requires an in-depth understanding of the context. For example, for a medical device it requires understanding the disease state that is related to the product and how the disease is currently. In addition, product development requires understanding customer needs through observations and interviews of the intended users.


In the Ulrich and Eppinger text, read Chapter 4 (Product Planning) and Chapter 5 (Identifying Customer Needs). In Chapter 4 there is an overview of pre-project planning (see Step 4).


1. A report that will be read by faculty and company contact.

2. An in-class presentation followed by discussion.

Submitting the Report

Email (PDF format) to your company contact and to your faculty mentor. Upload (PDF) to the course Canvas site. Only one member of the team has to upload to Canvas.

Report Structure

Title Page -- Include a title page that has title, authors, date, the company logo (if any), UMN logo, and an indication that the document is confidential. Include page numbers.

1. Project Overview – Include a brief description of the product and its intended benefits, and a brief description of the business goals of the project. For this, see the section on Mission Statements in Chapter 4 of the U&E text.

2. Project Background – Include a concise tutorial on the context of the project. For example, if the project is a medical device, provide a description of the disease state, epidemiology data for the disease and a description of current treatment options and procedures for managing the disease state. As appropriate, include references to key review articles in the academic literature or key reports and tutorials from government sources. Graphics and tables are useful for presenting complex information.

3. Market Analysis – Describe the primary and secondary markets (see U&E text on mission statements). Present numbers on the approximate size of the market segments, citing credible sources. State who the primary user of your future product will be (can have more than one). Be specific. “Interventional cardiologist” is specific, “doctor” is not. “Male college students in the U.S.” is specific, “student” is not. Justify why it makes sense to target this user(s).

4. Competitors – Identify the major players targeting the same problem. Identify competing products, both direct and indirect competition.

5. Plan for Identifying Customer Needs – In this section present your plan for identifying customer needs. The plan result from considering the Kimmel lecture and handouts on discovering customer needs as well as Chapter 5 (Identifying Customer Needs) of the textbook. Your customer needs research plan should contain (1) the objective of your needs finding exercise, (2) which user, stakeholder and decision maker categories you plan to interview or observe and why, (3) how many people you will interview or observe in each category and the date by which those interviews will be completed, (4) how you will find the interviewees (be specific) (5) the research objective(s) for your interviews or observations, and (6) how the interview and observation data will be analyzed and presented. Items 1-6 should be about two pages in length. In an appendix to the report, include the interviewer guide that includes the interview questions (see Kimmel lecture and handout).

Report Format

Use whatever format you feel will best communicate your message. Your report should be content rich, keeping in mind that nobody wants to write or read a long report. Because you are graduate students, it is expected that your writing will communicate your ideas and be free of mechanical errors. Your report can be in the form of a document or in the form of a PowerPoint slide deck if you organize the deck so that it is meant to be read, which is different from a deck that is meant for presentation. (Note that developing a slide deck for reading is a good skill to master, but it can be difficult to pull off.)

In-Class Presentation

In class, your team will present the highlights of your report. Length is 10 minutes (no more), followed by 5 minutes of questions.


  1. Closely collaborate with your company contact for developing your report. At the end, nothing in the report should be a surprise to the company and the report should align with what the company is thinking. In interacting with your contact, remember that he or she is busy with their full-time job and may not respond immediately to emails or voice-mails. Be patient and be respectful of their time.
  2. When presenting information about disease states, market size or other areas that are not familiar to the common public, use and cite credible resources. Credible resources include market reports by credible firms, government reports, reports by major companies and academic peer-reviewed literature. For example, for medical products, review articles in PubMed, information on the NIH web site and information from the web sites of reputable organizations (e.g. Mayo Clinic, National Stroke Association) is acceptable.
  3. The Resources page on the NPDBD web site has pointers to where to find information. Market reports are listed under the UMN Library resources.
  4. In addition, you may find the following resources helpful:
    1. The Business Research section of the UMN Libraries. Note that there are dedicated business librarians available at the University libraries as well. They have deep knowledge of available resources and can assist you in person, by phone or online.
    2. The Business Source Premier database. This is one of the largest and most heavily used business information databases. It contains articles from both academic journals and trade publications (e.g., magazines that focus on specific industries, job functions & technologies.) Right now, type a few key words related to your project into Business Source and see what comes back.