Adapting Products Based on Consumer Needs
We worked with a division of a Finnish-based global health-care organization having 55,000 employees and $50 billion in revenue. The division we worked with was located in the mid-west and employed 700 people. Its mission was to develop, manufacture and market products for anesthesia and critical care.
During January 1999, the senior management team conducted an SOQ assessment. They had been doing well on quality and operational excellence initiatives in manufacturing and had improved their sales and marketing results, but were still concerned that there were many other areas on which they could improve. They approached the SOQ assessment as a means to find out what was working well and what needed to be improved.
We held a workshop with the senior team to present the results and engage them to determine what they needed to do to improve their business. We met with the CEO prior to the workshop to highlight the overall results and share the department comparisons. She was not surprised by the results, but was very interested to see that some of the departments had different results.
During the workshop, the team targeted challenge and involvement, freedom, idea-time, and idea-support as critical dimensions to improve to enable them to meet their strategic objectives. The organization was facing increasing competition in their markets and significant advances in technology. Although major progress had been made in the manufacturing area, they needed to improve their product development and marketing efforts. They wished to broaden involvement internally and cross-functionally and externally by obtaining deep consumer insight. The main strategy they settled upon was to “jump start” their innovation in new product development for life support.
Key personnel in new product development and marketing were provided training in Creative Problem Solving, and follow up projects were launched to apply the learning to existing and new projects. One project was a major investment in reengineering their main product line. Clinicians were challenged with the current design of the equipment. The initial decision was to redesign the placement of critical control valves used during surgery. The project leader decided to apply CPS on the challenge and used a number of the tools to go out and clarify the problem with the end-users. The sessions were videotaped and small-group sessions were held involving project team members from research and development as well as marketing. The result was a redefinition of the challenge. The decision was made to save the millions of dollars needed for a reengineering effort and develop a new tactile tool to help the clinicians’ problem of having their hands full.
During this process, the employees were involved in working sessions and were able to observe progress due to a deliberate effort to display and communicate the results. Since the professionals in the research and development lab were also directly involved in obtaining and interpreting the consumer insight data, they understood the needs of the end-users and displayed an unusually high degree of energy and commitment to the project.
There were other spin-offs as well. Many of the employees started taking other initiatives to transform their use of space into community sharing events and resources. On one visit to the facility we observed a resource exchange for employees with children in which they could purchase new learning games or exchange their used ones with each other. We also observed a much greater amount of cross-functional and informal working across departments. Not only was there more consumer insight research going on, but also there were more and closer partnerships created with clinicians and end-users of the products.
Another SOQ assessment was administered about 18 months later. During this period of time the CEO tracked revenue growth and profitability of the division and reported double-digit growth.
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