3 Dimensions of Product Innovation
Albert Einstein said once: “If I had 1 hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask”.
Let’s forgive him the naivety of a genius – in the current world of tough competition and limited budgets he wouldn’t stand a chance to develop a solution on time.
Still, he has got a point, and it surely is worth to ask plenty of questions before we roll our sleeves up and start developing a product. Unfortunately, with time-to-market often being the critical driver, the temptation to do a half-hearted effort at describing a problem is higher than ever.
A lot of us tend to jump into “solution-finding” mode very quickly, probably because that’s where most result-driven people feel comfortable. After all, it’s the ability to take action that counts, right?
That said, the problem description process does not need to be over-complicated, nor should it take 90% of the project time (sorry Albert!). There are only few core questions that need to be asked in order to prepare ourselves for the product development. All of these questions can typically be split into 3 main categories, or “dimensions”.
Customer – What are the customer’s needs? What pain is our product going to relieve? Even more importantly, what are the customer’s wants? People buy what they want, not what they need. So yes, of course we need to focus on problems, but we should never forget customer’s aspirations either.
This “Customer” dimension is critical — If we don’t get it right, then our product will fail, no matter how good we are in asking business- and technology-related questions.
Business – What’s in it for us? Is the project feasible with regard to time schedule and investment required? Have we got enough resources to pull it through?
If the first dimension, the “Customer” is about the value we COULD add, then this dimension answers the question “Can we really? And can we sustain it?” Naturally, sales projections belong here too.
Technology – here the problem is defined “through the eyes of an engineer”, describing the technical system where the solution should be created. And unlike the first two dimensions, this part gets often forgotten.
The “Technology” dimension is not only about technical feasibility for every feature – this will not be completely clear in the beginning of the project anyway. It is more about preparing engineers for problem-solving: simplifying the requirements we got from the customer, breaking them down to basic functions, and looking at the problem from a technical point of view.
If our product is an unknown “black box”, then what are the inputs? What is the ideal outcome? If our engineers had a magic wand, what would they wish? What could the “side effects” (undesirable outcomes) be?
So here they are, the 3 dimensions of product innovation: Customer, Business and Technology. And it probably should be mentioned that the core message for all of them is Simplify.
Just before we get to the process of generating ideas and solutions, we should simplify all the inputs we are getting from the customer, simplify our business case and simplify the technical problems we got. Yes, “the devil is in the detail”, but only once we got through the initial stage of the project and have a number of viable ideas that solve the fundamental challenges. It is too easy to get lost in all the detailed requirements that we collected from our customer. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see engineers working at solutions for the variety of less-important product features, while losing sight of main functions and core value that the product should provide.
At the beginning of the project, we have to keep things simple. Or, as Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Well, he got it right this time.