Product innovation is rarely a no-brainer. No company can afford to try every new idea or technology that comes along. Customer needs are always changing, hard data is often lacking, and timing is critical. Yet growth requires risk — and action before opportunities slip away.
The question is, which risk(s) are most worth taking and how do you justify the investment?
Many companies have found answers through product and technology roadmapping. When done correctly, roadmapping helps product developers make better decisions and forge more effective development strategies.
According to Dr. Jay Paap, one of the world’s foremost innovation experts, it all starts with information. His Customer Focused Technology Planning® (CFTP) framework, used successfully by many top companies, is based on the collection and distillation of information. Organizations need to find out what customers value, what competitors are doing, and what technologies are out there – now and in the future. Too often companies aren’t sure what to ask and which information is truly relevant.
So we asked Jay for a quick ‘how-to’ on gathering the right information to build a solid roadmap. Here are his answers:
1. What specific information should you gather?
Jay: The four main information-gathering questions to ask are:
- What is really driving customer behavior? Use traditional approaches like market research and VOC, but also others like forecasting, problem research, lead user, leverage or Kano analysis, or ethnography.
- What are the technology options – current and future? Have a scouting mindset to find others with similar problems, inventory other industries, monitor what’s going on in government and university labs and the entrepreneurial community.
- What is the competitive environment? What others are doing or hope to do. How you can time your activities strategically. Who potential partners or competitors might be. What resources you need and where/whom to acquire them from.
- What is your company’s strategy? Gather internal information about goals, constraints, resources, values, and risk tolerance.
2. Who owns this information and how do you use it to make the right decisions?
Jay: The information can be anywhere. We typically go to Marketing for customer information, R&D for technology information, Strategy for trends and competitors, etc. While these groups may be in the best position to manage these flows, what really drives innovation is the involvement of all major functions in the processing of the information into usable inputs into planning. To make informed decisions, everyone needs to have the same vocabulary. Assessment becomes cross-functional. When people share raw information, it keeps them honest and purposeful. When information is abstracted or summarized; the richness is gone and innovative insights often get short-circuited. The process involves piecing together customer information, competitive intelligence, technology information, and assessing opportunities in terms of your strategy. Innovation planning typically involves 15-20 people taking two days to share information, create landscape maps summarizing the key factors affecting innovation, and then jointly developing ideas for innovative products and services. The activity can be eye-opening. Marketing and engineering frequently gain a completely new appreciation and understanding.
3. How do you know which customer needs are the right ones to focus on? Customers rarely identify or articulate the ones that ultimately change the game.
Jay: There are six different techniques I use for identifying customer needs, and only one involves asking the customer what they want! Dick Davis at Whirlpool, for example, anticipated the customer demand for wash-and-wear cycles not through VOC type techniques, but by looking at environmental factors affecting what customers would want, specifically, the emergence of new fabrics requiring new ways of washing. The idea is to gather information on the customer as well as from the customer. Also gather competitive intelligence on external trends and new technologies. Innovation happens when you can anticipate customer needs even before customers know them.
For a brief overview of the CFTP framework and how it works, click here.
For further insight:
Jay Paap’s acclaimed two-day course Product & Technology Roadmapping for Future Growth will be offered October 21-22, 2019 at MIT in Endicott House in Dedham, MA. Participants receive templates, examples, and individualized action steps as well as access to Jay for implementation questions after the class has ended.