At the heart of every successful product is the ability to address a real need or circumstance of struggle—a “job to be done”—in consumers’ lives. Identification of this “job” happens early in the innovation process, as it forms the core insight around innovation development and execution.
Feedback-Influenced Design is a Key Point of Differentiation
Long before its current mess, Boeing was once the pioneer in aspects of product development. No example illustrates Boeing’s inventive stills than the groundbreaking Boeing 777 program, particularly in its use of iterative, paperless computer-aided design, assembly process-planning, and agile product development. Not only that, the Boeing 777 program offers the most high-profile examples of companies tapping consumers as never before to help them create new products.
Knowing very well that the secret to long-term success starts very early in the innovation process, director of engineering Alan Mulally led a “working together” initiative to organize product development around customer input. (Mulally left Boeing after not being named CEO in 2006 and engineered a dramatic turnaround at Ford Motor Co.)
Concept Testing at Every Stage of Development
In the late 1980s, just as the 777 program was being launched, Mulally made a consequential decision to involve its major potential customers in the development of the aircraft specifications. Mulally made up a “gang of eight” comprising All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and United Airlines. At the group’s first meeting in January 1990, Mulally’s team distributed a 23-page questionnaire asking what each customer wanted in the design. Within two months, Boeing and the airlines decided on a basic design configuration.
The “working together” initiative was a radical departure from the bureaucratic project organization. Internally, Boeing had become bureaucratic and department-focused. Specialists in various departments would design their parts. Then, it was up to the manufacturing team (the system integrators) to figure out how to make it all come together. It was a “throw-it-over-the-wall” environment where the disconnect was a persistent problem.
Having customer input implied that development was centered on customer needs. This would also tear down the walls between departments—designers, suppliers, and assemblers usually separated by organizations or development phases would now be engaged collaboratively and talking and collaborating in real-time.
In an industry where manufacturers classically designed aircraft with only token customer input. Rather than presenting the market with what Boeing perceived as their idea of what was required, customers had direct input. Over the decades, the Boeing 777 became one of the world’s most successful commercial aircraft and continues to be the workhorse of many a customer fleet.
Idea for Impact: Create Something People Want
Whether selling products or services, fast food, or experiential travel, the most innovative companies organize their offerings around customers’ needs. From the very beginning, they tap consumers as never before to help them create new products, and they’re embedding customer knowledge into the business. Early and frequent feedback is one way to cope with the pressure for shorter product cycles and to be prudent about not investing time and resources in unpromising ideas. It also augurs well for the experiences-over-possessions shift in consumer values.
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