Monday, February 18, 2008

Great Questions for Sparking Innovation
A process is just a series of logical questions to take you from point A to B. This is a great summary from Rita McGrath’s (Columbia Business School) blog of a great article from HBR.

December’s Harvard Business Review ((Reprint: R0712E ) contained a terrific and thought provoking article co-authored by Trish Clifford and some of her colleagues at McKinsey)
Essentially, they argue that most attempts at out of the box thinking are futile because the problem space is just too enormous. Instead, they recommend using analogies, well-framed questions and lots of structure to get people to think differently. The article is definitely worth grabbing if you are trying to come up with new ways to generate ideas.

In a sidebar, the article lists 21 Great Questions for developing new products.
These are:

De-average buyers and users
• Which customers use or purchase our product in the most unusual way?
• Do any customers need vastly more or less sales and service attention than most?
• For which customers are the support costs (order entry, tracking, customer-specific design) either unusually high or unusually low?
• Could we still meet the needs of a significant subset of customers if we stripped 25% of the hard or soft costs out of our product?
• Who spends at least 50% of what our product costs to adapt it to their specific needs?

Examine binding constraints
• What is the biggest hassle of purchasing or using our product?
• What are some examples of ad hoc modifications that customers have made to our product?
• For which current customers is our product least suited?
• What what particular usage occasions is our product least suited?
• Which customers does the industry prefer not to serve, and why?
• Which customers could be major users, if only we could remove one specific barrier we’ve never previously considered?

Explore unexpected successes
• Who uses our product in ways we never expected or intended?
• Who uses our product in surprisingly large quantities?

Imagine perfection
• How would we do things differently if we had perfect information about our buyers, usage, distribution channels and so on?
• How would our product ch ange if it were tailored for every customer?
Look beyond the boundaries of our business
• Who else is dealing with the same generic problem as we are, but for an entirely different reason? How have they addressed it?
• What major breakthroughs in efficiency or effectiveness have we made in our business that could be applied in another industry?
• What information about customers and product use is created as a by-product of our business that could be the key ot radically improving the economics of another business?

Revisit the premises underlying our processes and products
• Which technologies embedded in our product have changed the most since the product was last redesigned?
• Which technologies underlying our production processes have changed the most since we last rebuilt our manufacturing and distribution systems?
• Which customers’ needs are shifting most rapidly? What will they be in five years?

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