I spent the first half (more or less) of my career working for (mostly) relatively large medtech suppliers and contract research organizations. The mission in each case was innovation - you know, inventions, design concepts, product updates/upgrades, and improved development processes. I led several R&D organizations whose missions were to execute innovation processes in response to needs expressed by our colleagues in marketing and sales organizations.
We were diligent, often creative, and always responsive to those stated needs. However, in retrospect, I often wondered if those stated needs were, in fact, real customer needs in every case. I doubted it. It's hard to argue with success - about $400 million in new-product revenue impact. But I now wonder what might have been.
Were the stated needs always grounded in reality from the customer perspective? No. If they had been so grounded, would the financial results have been even greater? I think so.
These realizations triggered the design of the second half of my career: Discovering customer and market needs and responding accordingly with technology-based solutions, i.e. answering the question: "How do you know what to build?"
The answer to this deceptively simple question is a deceptively simple answer: "Ask the prospective customer(s) in the prospective market(s) what the unmet needs are." After learning how to answer this question - following several fits and starts - I documented my (mostly successful) experiences in a short white paper entitled "
10 Guidelines for New-Product Definition
." My most comfortable zone is medical devices, in which products are
used by clinicians; that's the focus of my suggestions. I recommend them to your attention.
There are two issues deserving of special emphasis. The first is the constraint imposed by
momentum. When a new-product opportunity arises
from within your organization and momentum builds to get it done and launched as soon as possible, a powerful force is unleashed to charge ahead and avoid market-testing of the idea and especially to discount voiced concerns about the best way forward. The result is often a launched product or service that is less successful than it could be.
The second issue is the single most important prescription for success: Get the senior staff out in the market to achieve the fullest possible appreciation for customer needs. In the medical realm this means observing clinicians at work in their clinical environments; experiencing their frustrations first hand; understanding how their workaday lives are impacted and how patients are directly affected. What product attributes would improve the procedures at hand? What additional information, and how that information is best conveyed, would yield improvement and greater efficiency? What product-design enhancements would reduce procedure duration, hence cut healthcare costs?
Think seriously about how you can better decide what to build. Most importantly, do not drink your own Kool-Aid! The ultimate result will surely be appreciated by many.