ENGAGING END USERS
"Innovation not a linear process from idea to market, but a complex interplay between technology, people, market dynamics and business models"
One of the most significant trends in innovation during the past couple of decades has been the
shift from a linear innovation model, where users become involved at the later stages, to one where end-users increasingly play an intimate role from the earliest phases in research and development.
Instead of a serial set of activities where discovery led to applied research, leading in turn to development, productization and marketing, much current innovation starts with end-user involvement. Co-innovation between the solutioneer and the end-user has become as important an innovation model as the sequential approaches that are seen typify innovation in the mid-2th Century.
Users and innovators working together:
- fire each other's creativity,
- rapidly spot value-adding ideas and weed out misconceptions,
- and can often identify a lower risk optimisation that enables a new technology to establish an early adopter market before the inventors' original aspiration can be achieved.
The success of many familiar products derives from good end-user involvement: Nokia's early success over other mobile phone manufacturers derived from their intuitive usability even though others offered superior technical performance; the iPod/iPhone saga derives its strengths from innovating technology and business model around the orchestrated aspirations and behaviours of users.
The ability to engage end-users effectively is one of the most powerful architectural assets an organisation can posses.
Conversely, there is a litany of programmes (including many large IT projects) that failed because they did not engage users early enough in the prototyping, nor did they explore how user behaviour might evolve as a result of the introduction of a new capabilities.
The way an organisation engages with current (and potential) end-users is one of the most significant elements of its success at creating value from innovation. An innovation governance regime must be able to ensure the most appropriate set of end-user methodologies is employed. Examples of end-user engagement techniques include:
- Experimentation suites. A facility where innovative products or processes can be simulated in a sufficiently realistic environment to stimulate end-users to react and innovate themselves in the way they use a new idea. "Experimentation" in this context has been used by US military to immerse users in a synthetic environment, many technology companies have prototyping facilities where users can be exercised with new ideas and their reactions assessed. A variation on this idea is the Innovation Campus used by Philips to bring end-users and suppliers together to produce more usable consumer products and uncover new avenues for value creation.
- Partnering with an early adopter. This is more appropriate for business to business innovation, where a downstream partner works closely with a supplier to drive innovation towards the highest returns. While this requires careful management of intellectual property rights, the gain in targeting high value needs is substantial.
- Contracting with a Research Technology Organisation (RTO) or design house. RTOs generally have long-standing close relationships with a range of end-users and part of their fabric includes end-user engagement techniques, often focused on particular market areas. The role of such intermediaries has been significant in the past, and continues to be so. Many commonplace innovations by major brands have been developed through a relationship with a RTO or design house.
- Crowd sourcing. Enabling users to offer directly innovative solutions themselves, as has been implemented successfully by Lego.
Innovation Governance Checklist
- Does the organisation have mature ways of developing relationships with end-users?
- How is the decision made as to which end-user engagement methodology to adopt in each case?
- What methods are used to make end-user involvement rewarding and enticing to them?
- Is the engagement of end-users assessed as a critical factor in innovation gate reviews?
- Is investment in facilities, such as experimentation suites, appropriate?
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