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How to become a First Mover.

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Being a First Mover offers many advantages:

  • Setting your solution as the benchmark

  • Establish a strong brand recognition

  • Several unique pricing options including “skimming”

  • Improved customer loyalty

  • 100% market share.

If you want to be first on the market, you need to excel in several different areas such as:

  • Time-to-detect new opportunities

  • Time-to-decide which opportunities to pursue

  • Time-to-develop a solution to take advantage of the opportunity

  • Time-to-launch and ramp up production to harvest the opportunity.

A common trap many companies fall into is to see time-to-market = time-to-develop. A lot of people will also argue that time-to-develop is what matters and that the other areas are insignificant. This is just as misleading as measuring time-to-travel = time-in-air when traveling by airplane. Neglecting the time to get to the airport, go through security, waiting for boarding, waiting for your luggage, and traveling time to your final destination by taxi.

One month saved in time-to-detect is as important as one month saved in time-to-develop. If you are serious about becoming a First Mover, the first step is, therefore, to implement the following mindset:

  • Time-to-market = Time-to-detect + Time-to-decide + Time-to-develop + Time-to-launch

Recognize that there are ample opportunities to improve in all four areas.

Many things can, of course, be done to improve the overall time-to-market, but in this article, we will focus on the single most important thing to do. Something that will have a major impact on all four areas – the layered portfolio.


Huge improvements can be made in time-to-detect new opportunities by implementing a well-balanced layered portfolio of activities and projects. The portfolio needs to cover both product development and marketing.

The aim is to identify opportunities for quantum leaps in customer value as well as maintaining the right balance between long-term and short-term initiatives.

The layered portfolio is managed on the following principles:

  • Activities in one layer should minimize work in the layer below

  • Only things that are “ready” will be transferred to the layer below

  • Striving to maximize customer value is the prerequisite for success at all levels

  • For the two top layers, How is more important than When.

The two top layers need the freedom to experiment, test alternative technologies, new marketing methods, or experiment with different business models. Challenge the way you are creating value for your customers today. Breaking paradigms and established ways of doing things is part of what needs to be done.

Focus is on identifying disruptive elements that may have a major impact on the way you do business today. A First Mover embraces disruptive technologies and is actively looking for such opportunities.

Activities that need to be kept outside your development and gate-process. They need to be protected because when push comes to shove, a lot of people want to move resources from them into lower layers, and lower layers will always be more urgent.


In an ideal world, decisions on which opportunities to pursue are fact-based and taken in consensus. In the real world, most companies are far from that. Personal opinions and agendas and internal politics will influence decisions. Decision-making is, therefore, an area with many different nuances and aspects. However, in this article, we look at time-to-decide from a purely layered portfolio perspective. When managing the layered portfolio, different decision-making methods are needed at the various layers in the following way:

  • Visions guide the promise of knowledge activities

  • Targets guide the promise of performance activities/projects

  • Goals guide the promise-to-market projects

  • Orders guide all lower levels

One way of measuring how well your portfolio and decision making is working is to take stock of:

  • how many and quickly, bad ideas or projects are sifted out of the portfolio

  • how many successful products you can launch on the market per year?

If no ideas or projects are filtered out of the portfolio is a sign that you are only making safe bets or that your decision making is not working. As a First Mover, you have to pursue also some wild ideas challenging existing paradigms, but at the same time have the decision-making capabilities to identify weak ones and eliminate them in time.


The biggest problem in time-to-develop is, believe it or not, the easiest to fix. Reduce overloading in the product and marketing development pipeline. Too many projects are running in parallel, fighting for the same resources. In my long career, I have never worked with a company that didn’t have an overloaded product and market development pipeline.

If more than 80% of available resources are planned to be utilized, this automatically leads to delays. There are not enough resources to handle variabilities such as project contingencies, late technical changes, testing and validation problems, urgent customer complaints, or people leaving your company. These are things you need to have free capacity available to manage.

An overloaded product and marketing development pipeline is also a sign that your decision-making is not working correctly. The load in the pipelines is not managed properly.

The layered portfolio will also contribute to reducing the time-to-develop in the following way:

  • Elimination of unnecessary and significant risks. Before concrete product development work starts, the higher levels of the portfolio have already verified the new technology or concept.

  • Increasing technological and marketing readiness. Creating verified off-the-shelf solutions means that these can be quickly implemented when required.

  • Reduce the number of late changes. Only already proven and verified solutions are used.


During one period, I did the following experiment. If a company advertised on billboards that they had launched a new car, I drove directly to the showroom. Once I visited a showroom and this is what happened:

  • Me – Can you show me the new car that you advertise?

  • Salesperson – We have no car. It will arrive in a few weeks.

  • Me – Can I have a catalog?

  • Salesperson – We have not received the catalogs yet.

  • Me – What is the price?

  • Salesperson – We have not priced it yet.

I have never experienced a more dysfunctional product launch. Not only did the company waste money, but they also lost credibility and image.

Shorter product life cycles make the ability to shift between product generations an increasingly more critical competitive advantage. The ability to cost-effectively liquidate one generation and carry out a quick ramp-up of a new one. This requires more predictability in the product and marketing development pipelines, and this is where the promise of performance layer comes into the picture. Properly verify new technologies, manufacturing methods, or suppliers before they are utilized in the market and product development pipelines.

If you are suffering from many late changes and delays, the focus should be on strengthening the promise of performance layer in your portfolio. The risk and uncertainties in the product and marketing development pipelines are too high.


If you are still determined about becoming a First Mover, I hope that the above gave you some ideas of low hanging fruits on how to improve.

I have seen companies that waste months in time-to-detect, time-to-decide, and time-to launch while at the same time chasing days in time-to-develop. And then finally beaten by the competition to the market, the Product Development Department has to carry the burden and are seen as the scapegoat.

As the proverb says: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. And maybe your time-to-market, in fact, is only time-to-develop.

Maybe it is time for your company to get all the ducks in a row.

If you want to learn more on customer value, follow "The customer value challenge". Several videos and posters on how to turn customer value into a concrete and practical tool to drive profitability, growth and sustainability. All is free.


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