Medical Device Manufacturer Sharpens Product Definition with Customer Data
- Cultivate a process for evaluating new products.
- Add voice-of-the-customer research to product definition.
- Integrate the fuzzy front-end with the stage-gate process.
- Successful process for canceling projects.
- Better data for decision making.
- Market-Driven Product Definition
- Voice of the Customer
Like many companies, medical device manufacturer MEDRAD, Inc. faces the challenges of an increasingly global market, including shrinking product development timelines. In 2006, Medrad began updating the way it approaches the fuzzy front end of its product development process to adapt to shorter development timelines and make sure products are well targeted to the market.
Cross-Functional Participation Adds Credibility
As part of Medrad's goal of reinvigorating an old product line, PDC helped by putting in place its Market-Driven Product Definition (MDPD) process. According to Julie Gulick, a Product Planner at MEDRAD, adopting the process meant "We were able to have a more cross-functional team than we’d had in the past." Previously, one or two people from product development and marketing would conduct worldwide customer interviews. They would return and share that information with the engineering team, but designer’s rarely experienced customer input directly.
For this project, the interview team included a systems engineer, mechanical engineer, and a software engineer. "It doesn’t sound like much to add those two extra people," Gulick says, "But they were looking at it through a pair of different eyes, and then they went on to be the leads for their functional areas, so the software engineering lead could impart that knowledge to his or her team -- and that makes a big difference! The credibility is different. They could describe what they saw at [a particular] hospital, rather than saying, 'Let me check with a marketing person and ask them what it was like.'"
Medrad considers one of the biggest successes of the new approach to be the cancelation of a major project. While this may sound illogical, Gulick explains that in the past, some of the many funded ideas would simply "die a slow death." The successful cancellation of the project meant cost and resource savings for Medrad.
After conducting voice-of-the-customer research, the team developed solutions, and then built a business model. Using objective data about what customers believed, the VOC team recommended to the executive committee that it cancel the project. "The thing that was wonderful for us is that we were no longer relying on gut feel," Gulick says. “The process allowed us to move away from this gut feel to quantifiable survey data”, which demonstrated that the product wasn’t needed.
Medrad has gone on to implement the MDPD process with other projects. Most of the engineers who learned how to apply MDPD liked the language, process, and workshops. The fact that everything is traceable gives the engineers a comfort level with MDPD not conferred by ad hoc processes. "The best thing about this is I’m equipped with tools that allow me to [create a] bridge from customer opinions to customer data," Gulick says. “With MDPD I liked that everything was traceable. Just how tidy things were was great because our engineers think that way, and it didn’t feel as willy-nilly to them, which an ad hoc process always did.”
Finally, Gulick emphasizes that the success of such a process requires high-level management commitment. The impact deepens as the organization continues to use the process for more projects.