Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Measure Those Ideas!

"All of our customers want this product. You should see their eyes light up when we even hint about it."

"We have a great feature almost completed. We just incorporated it while we were working on the requirements. It'll cost a little bit more, but the customers will love it."

"This will put us WAY ahead of all of our competitors. They probably haven't even thought of it yet! It'll wow our customers the minute they get wind of it."

The first statement sounds positive. Customers' eyes lighting up isn't a bad thing. But if the product is to be really attractive, when it comes to purchasing time, we'll need a lot more than hints to confirm its viability.

The second declaration should scare us. We don't have time to create all the features that we know we require. How can we "just incorporate" something along the way. How much did THAT cost us? And then, how can we have a clue that the customers want the feature and even less that they would be inclined to pay extra for it. Ouch!

The third pronouncement has the cart so far ahead of the horse that it should leave us breathless. Maybe the potential customers WILL be breathless with the revelation of the new concept. But the development of products or features as "surprises" leaves a lot to chance. Perhaps on the other hand, WE will be surprised to "get wind of" the customers REAL preferences and expectations -- and of the achievements and insights of our competitors.

If only we had a master calibration tool of some kind, against which to measure our ideas BEFORE we start spending time and money on them ...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Warning: Data Is As Data Does

It has been an exciting time. The guru, FAC and representatives of numerous customers have talked, listened, shared knowledge, raised issues, discussed concerns, worried aloud, boasted now and then ... how can we keep all of this straight? More importantly, how can we keep it in perspective?

Once again, the devil is in the details. And the knowledge -- our goal -- is there as well. Data, retrieved, stored and misunderstood could be worse than no data at all. Yet it is precisely the content retained from the Customer Listening Meeting that holds the key to future progress.

How can we record that content, rationalize it, objectify it, ensure that we retain the real knowledge contained within the data, and not just the data itself. How can we ensure that we retain knowledge, and not just data.

Numbers often speak more loudly than words. This is particularly true if they are backed-up with detailed verbal documentation. Objectivity and quantification, with their strong links to mathematics -- the basis of engineering -- holds a certain comfort level in a technological environment. But how will we even begin to sift through all of the meetings' output, much less quantify it? Can we transform the subjective into the objective?

As was true for the Customer Listening Meeting, the achievement of this goal begins with the process. With a specific process that is well-documented and understood by all who participate in the planning activity, a solid basis for future progress is put in place.

Please come back for the next installments of this blog. We will roll up our sleeves and get to work once again!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wow! What a meeting THAT was! (12/12)

Last time ("Put the Guru to Work"), we looked at the crucial role of the supplier's guru during the course of the kickoff knowledge-sharing meeting. And that is just the beginning!

The conversations begun during the course of the kickoff meeting lead to future exchanges. When technological issues and technical questions come to the minds of the customer's participants, the guru's image flashes to mind! No problem picking up that phone and talking to the guru; the skids are already well prepared.

In the same way, the bigger product and business issues are now staged for ongoing discussion between customer and supplier key players. The context has already been communicated. No need to spend additional time providing background each time that a new issue (opportunity?) arises. The framework for the ongoing working relationship -- the knowledge-sharing relationship -- is firmly in place.

It is important to reference the solidification of this new relationship at the close of the kickoff meeting. Things have gone so well. So much meaningful content has been shared. This is NOT the time to let anyone leave that meeting room without being fully aware of the value that has been created.

That value, tangible at this moment, is the linking element that will carry the knowledge-sharing and joint-planning relationship to to its next steps. Reiterate the next steps and reconfirm the value of the content. Take extra care to repeat the confidentiality commitments that are in place. Reconfirm that the content -- and the ongoing relationship -- will be treated with respect.

And then, bask in the good vibes. Typically, the close of the knowledge-sharing kickoff meeting is filled with positive statements.

"I've never been part of a meeting that had so MUCH good content in it!"
"Wow! That was really an amazing meeting!"
"I learned crucial things from other people in my own company!"
"What aren't ALL of our suppliers doing this kind of thing?"

The supplier's facilitator (FAC) and guru are also smiling. They are also very busy thanking all of the participants and reiterating their positive anticipation about future discussions. There is no doubt that they are committed to keep the knowledge-sharing ball rolling -- you can see it in their eyes!

Part 12 of 12, by Marilyn (Lyn) Gosz, Gosz Group Technology Planners