The product-definition era ended 15 years ago. As software and the internet began to take over the world, both easier technologies to iterate to successful outcomes, up-front planning started to take a back seat.
As a whole, society began to change as well. Critical thinking was gradually replaced by rapid doing. As 3D printing grew, making iterations faster for leading companies that could afford the quite expensive equipment, competitive advantages could be maintained.
Today, 3D printing is down the cost curve and is available to all companies and to individual Makers working out of their homes. The playing field is nearly level again. Everyone, large and small, can now quickly and economically make physical models. Soon, 3D printing will turn out saleable market-ready products.
Where does that leave us? It seems we are about to go back to the future, defining the right product. As we head to a future that again emphasizes definition, both science and technology advances will be on our side.
Back To A Better Future: Product Definition [Machine Design – June 2016] describes how scientific data gathering and big-data analysis tools, that will become generally available in the next few years, will lead to up-front planning and analysis again becoming a primary competitive differentiator as it was in the 1990s.