Monday, January 17, 2011

Lean Design – Customers Come First

By Al Norval

Lean Design is the ability to do more than just invent products. Many people can invent products. Bringing them to market and commercializing them is another thing entirely. In fact even that is not enough. Commercializing them so they become profitable value steams is the true goal of Lean Design.
To do this requires an intimate knowledge of the Customer. This is more than listening to Customers telling us what they need. It goes far beyond that. It involves determining needs of Customers they can’t tell you about or even articulate – their unspoken needs. To do this we need to study our customers, live in their space, and take time with them in their environment. Only then can we hope to discover the problems they have and gain insight into ways we can help them overcome these problems.

This is innovation.

Developing Products & Services that enable Customers to solve their problems, even problems they don’t know they have. This will drive a value proposition that enables profitable value streams.

I recall a company I was working with who made a common consumer product. The design team was a cross functional team composed of Product Designers, Marketers, Engineers and Manufacturing that was charged with designing a new and improved version of the product. As I worked with the team, I asked them “How many of you have used the product in the past 5 years?”

Incredibly, only one of twenty people replied they had used the product. They had studies and research depicting market trends and consumer preferences, yet most had never actually used the product. Without the knowledge that comes from intimate customer and product usage experiences, how can we design products that drive a value proposition that enable the goal of Lean Design – profitable value streams.

Keeping the value stream profitable over the life cycle of the product is another challenge but we’ll deal with that in another column.

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