People often ask when is the best time to innovate: early in the pipeline process, middle, or late. Teams tend to resist innovation late in the process when they are busy launching a new product. Teams tend to resist innovating in the middle of the NPD process because they are too busy developing the next generation product. Teams tend to resist innovating early in the process because they are too busy developing franchise strategy.
So when is the best time to innovate? Anytime.
Early in the process, you need innovation to develop a large stock of potential novel product ideas. Tie these early ideas to your franchise marketing strategy. This makes your strategy more robust and believable.
Early in the process, you need innovation to trigger modifications or enhancements to the product now in development. This gives you potential differentiating features that you can still build into the new product.
Late in the process, you need new concepts just when launching a new product to show your company and your customers that you have a sustainable pipeline of ideas behind you. This gives you credibility.
Innovating is like putting in golf. Never leave yourself short.