Archive for 'September 2011'
Earlier I wrote about creating long-term value in product development, and how to uncover the real insights that lead to products that last for years. Another Ã¢ÂÂlesson-learnedÃ¢ÂÂ weÃ¢ÂÂve thought about involved creating a long-term roadmap for the product, one that begins before Launch Day.
Lesson: You must lay out the upgrade path for the product and factor it into its architecture long before you introduce the first version.
At Keithley during the 1990s, our market research had informed us that those working in semiconductor labs were typically unhappy with the fixed-configuration characterization systems then available. All too often, they were being forced to purchase a completely new system every few years to address new test needs because their existing ones lacked flexibility. We created a test system, the Model 4200-SCS, that was originally envisioned to evolve over time so that we could offer customers a product that protected their instrumentation investment over the long term.
We took that upgrade path concept to heart, and today we write five-year Ã¢ÂÂroadmapsÃ¢ÂÂ for the Model 4200-SCS. This roadmap is designed to parallel industry technology milestones as laid out in the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) and our customersÃ¢ÂÂ individual corporate roadmaps. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a concept weÃ¢ÂÂve applied throughout our product line beyond the Model 4200 to our SourceMeterÂ® Source-Measure Units and other primary measurement platforms. Mapping our products to industry and customer roadmaps has been a vital strategy in creating enduring measurement platforms, not Ã¢ÂÂme-tooÃ¢ÂÂ instrument solutions.
Every product has a lifespan, some measured in months, some in years. Test instruments are not the same as smartphones, of course Ã¢ÂÂ we typically seek to build high-value enduring Ã¢ÂÂplatformsÃ¢ÂÂ that will last several years and stand the test of time for our customers.
Easy to say, hard to do, in any competitive environment. Aside from the commonplace answers of Ã¢ÂÂstaying close to customersÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂanticipating the market,Ã¢ÂÂ just how DO you build an enduring product? We came up with a few common themes that have driven our more successful product technologies:
Lesson: Listening is hard. Learn how to do it well.
Product development at times seems to be a black art. Perhaps that explains the tremendous number of annual product launches that fail. But at its core, uncovering true opportunity resides on understanding what the customer says, and doesnÃ¢ÂÂt say. The unarticulated need is often the difference between understanding the difference between features that are Ã¢ÂÂnice to haveÃ¢ÂÂ versus Ã¢ÂÂhave to have.Ã¢ÂÂ Teaching your marketers and engineers how to ask questions, and pull true insights from customer conversations, lies at the core of creating real value in product development. The psychology of questioning is vitally important to understand. For instance, Ã¢ÂÂwhat elseÃ¢ÂÂ will elicit far more than Ã¢ÂÂis there anything else?Ã¢ÂÂ Very subtle, but very powerful. Or, one of our marketers loved the question, Ã¢ÂÂwhat problem does that solve?Ã¢ÂÂ He felt that simple query yielded a treasure trove of creative insights.
Of course, we do the typical steps of customer visits, visiting trade shows and conferences. WeÃ¢ÂÂre always searching for the new application for our products that can yield to new solutions. One method weÃ¢ÂÂve used is Google Scholar, which weÃ¢ÂÂve found to be a powerful scanning tool to uncover ideas we may not hear of otherwise. For instance, during the last decade, weÃ¢ÂÂve learned researchers far outside the semiconductor lab are using the Model 4200-SCS in some astonishing ways. Just by searching for Ã¢ÂÂKeithley 4200Ã¢ÂÂ using Google Scholar, weÃ¢ÂÂre constantly discovering the results of research in technologies that simply didnÃ¢ÂÂt exist when the system was introduced.
IÃ¢ÂÂll address other lessons-learned in product development practices in later blog posts. For now, remember that your customers are talking to you. Go listen to them.