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Innovation – identifying the right problem to solve

In my previous post I talked about how developing the creative ideas that lead to innovative products is a discipline unto itself and that using these techniques can lead to products that will have lasting competitive advantage in the marketplace.  In addition to the well practiced technique of going out and speaking to your customers, I wanted to share six other research techniques that can lead to insights that will let you develop products that create significantly more value for the customer than the current alternative (which is how I define innovation.):

  1. Ethnography – observing you customer “in the wild”.  See what issues they encounter that you might be able to solve.
  2. Interviews or focus groups – try to understand the issues and opinions of customer segments.
  3. Opportunity score assessment –  once you’ve done the research above to identify problems that people want solved, you survey them to understand how important an issue is and how satisfied they are today with their current solution.  Find areas of large gaps, often with secondary capabilities because the primary ones are well satisfied. These are the opportunities (for more info you can read Anthony Ulwick’s What Customers Want.)
  4. Kano surveys – separates out capabilities into three groups: must haves, would create more value if it worked better, and would delight the user but is not expected.
  5. Conjoint analysis – help understand what combination of capabilities (and price) are valued. For example, this type of survey can help a mobile phone design team optimize the design tradeoffs for size, weight, and battery life.
  6. Innovation games – this is the area developed by Luke Hohmann on collaborative play to get deeper into customer’s minds and needs than traditional interview techniques.

Once you’ve identified the right problem to solve, the next step is developing creative solutions and concepts.  I’ll discuss these techniques in my next post.


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