Life Technologies

Refocusing on the customer


  • Product decisions based on internal information rather than customer input
  • Potential to lose ground to more customer-focused competitors


  • Development team was re-energized
  • The company institutionalized the new approach
  • First full year of revenue for initial product came in at double the forecast


  • Market-Driven Product Definition (MDPD®)

In 2006, Life Technologies (then Applied Biosystems) experienced one of the challenges of market leadership. After years of producing best-selling products, the company found itself basing product decisions on internal information rather than customer input. Senior management recognized the hazards of operating in a vacuum: products would fail to align with customer needs and the company would give ground to more customer-focused competitors.  

Life Technologies decided to overhaul its approach to product definition and development. The company brought in PDC to help it streamline the requirements process and to become more customer-centric.

Kelly Rauch worked directly with PDC in her capacity as the Voice of the Customer (VOC) Program Manager. She led the core VOC team through every stage of PDC’s Market-Driven Product Definition (MDPD) process, from conducting customer interviews to diagramming requirements. A larger team came in to offer additional ideas during the brainstorming stage. 

Starting from where you are

Product development cycles don't stop to give a company time to carry out VOC work, so the team remained realistic about the starting point for the process. The company's scientists were accustomed to being the source of product ideas. Rather than asking the scientists to abandon these ideas, the VOC team worked with PDC to formulate questions around specific application areas that would yield valuable, unbiased information.

Commitment pays off

To be successful, MDPD requires a high level of commitment to the full process. But there’s plenty of room along the way for doubt. Are you talking to the right number of customers? Phrasing interview questions in the right way? Devoting time to VOC work at the expense of other activities? Because team members were doing their regular jobs during the pilot project, people sometimes felt they didn't have time to be in a workshop for two full days. But they stuck with it.

The payoff for this commitment was that team members became more excited as they became more engaged with one another and with customers. Talking with customers ignited a passion that told Rauch they were on the right track and gave the team confidence to go to management and argue for its recommendations.   

Another benefit of MDPD is that the process can easily be adapted for small-scale projects. Many products are twists or tweaks of an existing product, such as adding a dye to a reagent. For these smaller scale projects, the company can use existing information and talk to a limited number of customers, gaining the benefits of MDPD without implementing the full-scale process used for completely new products.

Institutionalizing a new approach

Since the 2007 pilot project, VOC has become an integral part of the product development process. Robust VOC data based on PDC's MDPD process backs up every new project and also supports the decision to commercialize. If VOC is not part of the initial decision-making, teams know to ask for it. VOC has become the common language of all the product managers in the Life Technologies molecular biology unit.

Sobha Pisharody, now Director of Product Management for Life Technologies, was a product manager responsible for a portfolio of products when she joined the cross-functional team chosen to pilot the MDPD process. "Investing in the up front work is well worth it," says Pisharody. "Ultimately, you spend less time in development and have more successful products when you launch. And you build a shared vision for the entire development team."

For the piloted product, the proof was in the dollars: the product's first full year of revenue came in at double the forecast.