NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

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…

Enterprise Wikis

Put simply a Wiki is a website that allows the user to create and edit pages through a browser interface.

Besides the ubiquitous Wikipedia there are an increasing number of organisations using a Wiki to collect and maintain a body of knowledge about their activities.  Many of these examples are focussed on new product development.

In such an Enterprise Wiki implementation, any user can start or edit a page on any subject from the results of customer research through to a product launch plan via a discussion on some enabling technology or software feature list.  Anything that would normally be discussed in an e-mail thread or documented in a networked ‘Project Folder’ can be part of such a Wiki

The simplest Enterprise Wiki utilises a raw engine with no pre-existing structure.  All the pages associated with a particular subject or product can be linked from a series of index pages (and indeed it is the organic growth of this index page that ends up defining the overall structure).  There are also product development specific Wiki based collaborative tools and Wiki add-ons to existing collaboration tools which have a basic structure as a starting point.

Either way, if you are finding that communication of information is an issue in your product development activities then explore Enterprise Wikis as a solution.