Successful new product development (NPD) links many perspectives from the end-user or customer, designers, manufacturers, and marketers. No single entity can develop a new product solution that meets customer needs and profit objectives by itself. Yet, incorporating and balancing these various viewpoints is often a challenge for innovators.
A set of tools that have become popular in the last few years are those in design thinking. Design thinking is a creative problem-solving approach that systematically expands the potential ideas to address a given customer need. The following figure illustrates the design thinking model.
In discovery, an NPD team uses tools like observation and ethnographic research to study potential problems. Customers are an integral part of the design thinking model because they show the NDP team how they approach problems today and which solutions, or workarounds, they employ to address those issues. The discovery phase of innovation is tremendously important since it sets the stage for all subsequent phases of work.
In the define phase, the NPD team uses design thinking tools to clarify the problem. While there might have been several challenges and customer needs noted in the discovery phase, carefully defining the problem is crucial to solving it. We recommend the ITEM Method of Problem-Solving in which the problem statement is initiated, tuned, evaluated and measured. The ITEM Method can be used as a standalone problem-solving tool or as a subset of tools within the design thinking framework.
Once the NPD team feels they have a concise customer need defined, the team will move to solution generation phases of work. This includes creating lots of potential solutions and testing them quickly. Rapid prototype testing is an important tool for innovation so that poor concepts can be eliminated. Moreover, customers are involved in the solution generation process in successful innovation ventures. You can include end-users and consumers in brainstorming sessions and certainly they should be included in evaluating prototypes.
In his book, “Product Design and Innovation,” Carlos Rodriguez identifies three types of analytical thinking within the framework of design. These strategic viewpoints can help an innovation team expand their solution sets to successfully identify options to address customer needs.
In the first category of problem-solving tools, deductive logic is used to test product solutions. In deductive testing, we already know the expected outcome or result, and we are measuring whether the new product will deliver that value. This type of problem-solving uses the argument of “if-then” and accepts conclusions justified by the hypothesis.
For example, deductive logic is applied to an automotive innovation. The hypothesis is that “consumers want faster cars.” Design thinking tools and the ITEM Method of problem-solving identify ways to increase acceleration through engine and transmission improvements. Deductive testing then proposes that “if the engine has more horsepower, then the car will accelerate faster.” Note that deductive testing is easily measured and describes “what” the design features do.
Inductive logic will extrapolate beyond the measurable deductive testing. Instead of designing around the “what” of the innovation, NPD teams use inductive testing to evaluate “how” to accomplish a product solution. This necessitates a broader viewpoint of the customer problem and back tracks from the solve stages of the design thinking framework to the identify stages.
For instance, instead of jumping to designing a faster car, inductive new product development will as the question of “how can people travel faster”. In this case, the solution space is expanded from faster cars to high-speed rail, airplanes, and maybe even a hyperloop. Inductive reasoning will generate more potential solutions using brainstorming and promotes solutions strategies beyond a given product feature.
Finally, abductive reasoning drives disruptive innovation by exploring both the “what” and “how” of a solution space. In this context, we are focused on delivering the most customer value by utilizing skills and competencies of a cross-functional NPD team that includes the customer. Abductive problem-solving in NPD includes design activities like observation, creating customer journey logs, and customer empathy maps.
Continuing our example of faster travel, abductive design will go back to the discover stage of the design thinking model to identify the true customer problem. We ask: “Why does she want to travel faster?” and “What does he accomplish with faster travel?” The answers may lead to NPD solutions that are disruptive or radical.
In our example, wd find that people want faster business travel so they can minimize time spent away from home and family. This leads to a product solution that has nothing to do with the person leaving home – instead, we implement a telecommuting option and hold a virtual meeting via webinar.
Visualizing NPD Solutions
Design thinking tools offer a broad approach to new product development that helps identify the best solution for customer problems. Using deductive testing in design and development, we can improve product features and characteristics. This helps maintain and sustain a product or brand through the maturity stages in the product life cycle.
NPD teams can use inductive design to broaden the scope of the problem. Rather than assuming an improvement of an existing product, inductive testing challenges the NPD team to design alternative approaches to solve the customers’ problems. Inductive testing involves design thinking tools like rapid prototyping and concept testing to ensure that customer needs are met.
Finally, radical and disruptive innovation can be achieved when the innovation team steps back to observe customers’ problems with the broadest perspective. Instead of improving existing product solutions or creating tangential new products, abductive reasoning allows the NPD team to craft delightful and unique products and services that truly address end-user challenges.
Feel free to contact me for more information design thinking. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their highest innovation goals!
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