NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

Customer Empowerment

In an earlier post (Collaborative Tools – Customer Involvement) I explored how the latest collaborative tools like SharePoint and SamePage are beginning to emphasise the value of customer involvement in new product development.  A recently published paper in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (Customer Empowerment in New Product Development) details some research on the same concept.

Illustrated with examples from Threadless and Muji (but they could also have included Yamaha with their EZ-AG Guitar) the authors describe the difference between ‘creation’ and ’selection’ empowerment and present the results of some research that shows a positive quantified impact from such close customer involvement.

Not every company can invite its customers to submit designs and let them vote which one will be used (like Threadless do with their T-Shirts) but it does seem to be worth spending a bit of time thinking about how you can tap into the creativity and decision making of your customer base…

Collaborative Tools – Customer Involvement

Collaborative tools such as enterprise wikis or more proprietary solutions like MS SharePoint and SamePage have generally focussed on improving internal communication.  In the field of new product development poor communication is a major barrier to effective performance and great benefit can be gained by intelligently deploying such tools.

There is an increasing emphasis from the vendors of these solutions to extend the scope of the tools to include communication with customers.  In the context of flexible product development or Lean Product Development the advantages of gaining continuous rapid feedback are of genuine benefit.

Of course the more customer facing parts of an organisation might (quite rightly) express concern at such close communication with the internal workings of the product development process (and in particular the individuals involved).  Coupled with that, there is the risk that the product development path may become too flexible and result in an unacceptable increase in time to market.

However with careful management the use of collaborative tools to increase customer involvement and feedback can only bring an improvement to the success of new products…