Developing and delivering new products should be an easy task. Design and rapid prototyping tools allow us to quickly model and test new designs, and more information than ever is available on consumer trends and buying habits. Despite having all of this technology and information available to us, the literature shows that some 40 percent of new products still fail to find success in the marketplace.
As in many endeavors, the right start often sets a direction along a path that leads to a successful conclusion. One of the tried and true first steps often recommended to start a design project is to listen to the Voice of the Customer™ (VOC). In the VOC step, we are to determine stated and unstated needs of the typical customer in a variety of ways including interviews, surveys, focus groups, observation, or online feedback. This makes sense—designers need to know who they are designing for and what they want. The shortcoming of this approach is that “customer” is often interpreted in the singular sense with the customer being only the final user of the product.
The Right Start: Listening to the Voices of All Stakeholders
Rather than just considering the voice of the customer as the final user, consider the “voices of all the stakeholders” (VOS) involved in the purchase and use of the product. Many business models include multiple steps and stakeholders, going from the producer to the final customer with each often able to influence the purchase and use of the product. Missing a key one can mean the difference between a product success and failure.
In a previous role as a provider of monitoring systems, our company embarked on the development of a new system by soliciting wants and needs from the factory floor supervisors and operators—the users of our system. We returned to the company a short time later with a new system ideally suited to their needs. This new system received little or no interest from company level managers and purchasers as we had failed to include their input into the process and system.
Who are all the stakeholder voices? Any person or entity with an interest in the purchase, supply, operation, or disposal of the system. This includes not only the expected users, buyers, and owners but also organizations such as regulatory, legal, or health. Considering the voices of many stakeholders creates a much longer list of wants, needs, and features to be weighed and included in the design of the product. However, this right start will help keep more projects on the right path to success.