Thursday, August 11, 2011

Customer Focussed Innovation

By Al Norval,

Ever notice how many companies push products out to customers rather than first understanding what Customers really find value adding and then designing products to fill that need?

Why is it that organizations do that?

It starts with not taking time to understand the Customer and their needs. Every product design is a countermeasure to a Customer problem. Before we can design the product we need to have a deep understanding of their problems. Not just the things that people will tell you in focus group feedback sessions but the deep, unspoken, unarticulated needs they have, many of which they don’t even realize they have. To do this we need to study our Customers, live in their world, experience their problems through their eyes. This allows us to truly Grasp the Situation and start the problem solving process following the PDCA cycle. It allows us to define the problem in the Customers terms. Only then will we have the insight to design products and services that will provide value to our customers.

But knowing this, why is it that many companies still don’t do it?
As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve come up with a few reasons. It takes time and resources to study our Customers both of which are in short supply when designers are pushed into meeting shorter launch time lines and shrinking budgets. It’s often easier to assume we know what’s best for the Customer. This is a type of Hubris or Big Company Disease both of which we’ve written about in previous blogs.

Another reason is we get attached to one particular concept and keep pushing it through to launch even though feedback and data say we shouldn’t. By the time we realize the product is flawed it’s too late since we have nothing else. Again Hubris and arrogance lead to poor product acceptance in the marketplace.

Interestingly enough, the root cause in both cases is a product innovation process that is full of waste.

True Lean Innovation is about taking the waste out of the Design process and carrying several alternatives deep into the process to allow designers time to explore alternatives until the last possible moment. This way we can launch products that deliver more value to customers. Having a process like this allows creativity to flourish since we are not forced to pick the one best idea very early on in the process.

In another blog, we’ll talk more about how to foster creativity as part of our design process and how to look at many alternatives and slowly converge on a solution. But none of this is possible without first and foremost taking the time to truly understand what drives the value proposition for your Customers.

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