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Using Expert-Based Research to Enable Innovation

Aug 17, 2007
In today's environment of economic hardship and intense competition, almost every CEO in America realizes the importance of increasing their organization's ability to innovate. In fact a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study revealed that CEOs ranked product development second in importance only to innovation as a source of competitive advantage. Former GE executive and author Jack Welch offers this perspective, "...if the rate of change inside the institution is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is the timing of the end." The challenge to innovate is great, yet most companies struggle through a disjointed process, often stuck in their traditional way of looking at their business.

Research shows that it takes nearly 300 ideas to achieve a single successful product. "Forward-thinking firms are moving aggressively to make the right choices to improve innovation and product development," said Ken Amann, Director of Research at consulting and research firm CIMdata. These firms have strategically focused on innovation as an organizational core competency and reinforce this philosophy by (1) focusing the organization on innovation (2) enabling innovation through a continuous injection of new, divergent perspectives (3) converging on the high-value ideas through an objective evaluation process.

How Do They Do It?

Leading innovators know that they can increase the business impact of innovation by injecting an external perspective during idea generation and evaluation. By leveraging the technical knowledge of experts and the evolving needs of lead users they narrow the list of ideas to the prioritized few with the greatest commercial promise.

For more than 20 years, Guideline has helped leading companies enable innovation and converge on the right ideas by providing assistance in organizing and moderating expert forums. The magic occurs within these interactions as the ideas and perspectives of an expert or experts fuse with the knowledge of individuals on the client team. Their combined insight fuels innovation, generating new ideas or improving the feasibility of concepts in play. Let's look at a few examples that demonstrate how leading innovators have leveraged external insight and expertise to generate, evaluate and prioritize ideas.

Product-Concept Ideation

Need to invigorate a stale ideation process?
Technical experts and leading technology users can be gathered in a forum to discuss unmet needs, limitations of existing solutions, product concepts, and unique product needs. Bringing fresh minds from outside an organization together, in a moderated session, will invariably produce new, solid product concepts. Guideline recently organized and moderated an expert forum for a leading medical products company. The session produced 10 specific new product concepts and in turn fueled additional ideas within the client observer group, generating a total of 40 product concepts.

Product-Concept Testing

Do you have numerous ideas but need an unbiased opinion to help prioritize the list?
A forum of industry experts provides a direct, open platform for gaining objective, independent insight on product-development concepts. Their viewpoint can help you clarify and prioritize ideas with the greatest potential. You can couple this input with in-depth telephone interviews with additional experts and/or leading users. The results will help you uncover barriers to adoption, ability to meet unmet needs, pros/cons of specific product features, and purchaser acceptance. Another of Guideline's medical products clients used this method to filter and prioritize 10 new product concepts. The experts helped them select the three most commercially promising concepts which subsequently received approval and funding for further development.

Product Concept Risk Analysis

You've got the idea and tested the concept, how do you evaluate the external risks associated with developing the product concept?
Engage an industry expert to interact with you and your project team to discuss the specific aspects of the product concept. Moderated interactions can be open or anonymous and are conducted either on-site or via teleconference. Open interactions allow both the expert and the client to be known to each other. Anonymous interactions allow the client to remain anonymous while deriving specific information from the expert(s) for product development. On-site interactions bring the expert(s) to a location for face-to-face meetings, typically for a minimum of half to full day interaction. This provides for more complete interaction between participants. Teleconference meetings are used for shorter interactions.

In a recent interaction, a leading technology-driven consumer packaged goods company hosted a teleconference with an industry expert, moderated by Guidleline. While remaining anonymous, the client team discussed the risks involved in the regulatory approval process for their product concept. The expert's knowledge of the industry and regulatory-process issues provided the team with alternative perspectives which helped them make a better go/no-go decision based on more realistic estimates of development and approval costs for their product concept.

Best Practices in Service Delivery

What are the key services you must offer along with your new product to be competitive in the market?
A forum of industry experts can be used to assist you in examining critical success factors, such as product qualification, market demands, customer acceptance, and quality system requirements.

Guideline recently moderated an on-site forum of recognized industry experts to determine supply chain management best practices for the high-volume, high-quality, cost-conscious global semiconductor market. The outcome of this expert panel identified and ranked the importance of industry-specific issues, e.g., quality programs such as ISO, TQM, Six Sigma, SPC, FMEA, and correction & control. This allowed the client to focus on the most critical service dimensions for their industry.

As you can see, using external technical and industry experts can provide valuable insights to inspire innovation that leads to winning products and services.
About the Author
Brian Reuter is Director of Product Realization at Guideline, helping clients with innovation for over 10 years. Guideline has over 1700 peer-recommended experts in science, technology and business, providing fast, confidential help. Learn more at www.intota.com.
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