Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
When a company starts getting past the startup stage, what happens to customer identification? As the number of customers increase, it becomes challenging to base the product on exactly what the customers want because the company gets pulled in all directions by different customers. The natural course of action for a company is to base its products on an extrapolation of market observations. The challenge to satisfying multiple customers is broken into a manageable problem of satisfying market needs. But, how successful are companies in identifying the market needs accurately? How can companies ensure that the market represents their customers?
In general, this process of identifying customer needs through observing the market seems very ill structured as per Herb Simon’s definition of ill structured problems. In ill structured problems, arriving at an absolute solution is almost impossible. There is no clear way to identify the needs of all the customers. Hence, there is no guarantee that the outcome will be the best. I believe that the best ways to solve ill structured problems are when we try to define their structure as much as possible using constraints. What constraints would make a product design process well defined?
When a company’s product design practices are not based on market trends, that would help a lot in removing a moving target. A constraint that can be imposed on product design practices are to stay true to the culture and core values of the company irrespective of that the customers demand. Every product is a function of people and culture and as long as companies stay true to this principle, their products take a predictable and successful course.
(Blog entry also published on PDMA)
Did you know about your invisible customers? They are not the ones you are talking to right now. These are the real customers. In my previous articles/blog posts I talked briefly about publics in the semi-conductor industry. Publics are people gathered around collective action technological or social. While this definition is modified rip-off from the philosopher Dewey, it is a good platform to have a product design discussion. Here, we use the term public in the context of different groups of individuals the companies design products for.
The EDA industry has assumed the semiconductor industry to be the face of the actual customers (the engineers) and fell into the trap of designing for the wrong public. When the EDA products are designed, market research is done and people in different companies are interacted with. However, the catch is that, only the people with purchasing power are asked about the needs. Typically, the customer research would involve talking to executives and CXOs, and through conference presentations. Very rarely, the real user (engineer, in this case) is asked for his/her opinion. This is a classic case of flawed information on which the product is based. The psychology of a company is to make profit and the sales engineers are evaluated by how many products/licenses they sell. It is only natural that they talk to people who can close the sale; and these people they talk to be typically at the top of the food chain.
In his landmark book “The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid“, C.K Prahalad talks about marketing to the bottom of the pyramid customers. Prahalad argues that the dynamics of the bottom of the pyramid customers are significantly different from those at the top. He highlights several case studies where technology made its way to the bottom of the pyramid customers when it empathized with their day-to-day problems. We can draw parallels from this work. Why not employ such an approach for product design? Wouldn’t amazing products be created if the companies started empathizing with the users, who are apparently invisible because they are the bottom of the food chain with no purchasing power?
Have you ever read the transcript of Neil Postman’s Informing Ourselves to Death“? If not, go and read it. It is a rather enjoyable lecture about information. In summary, Postman argues that lack of information is not the reason for our social and technological problems. On the contrary, abundance of information is. When information is available, we want to use it in some way. We have a tendency to connect it and make use of it; whether it is meaningful or not, it does not matter. In the hugely interactive social world we live in, information amasses quickly. One piece of information leads to another and before we realize, we have dipped our heads into a huge cloud of information and it sticks. The cloud keeps growing as others around us interact with this information and in turn, generate more.
What would happen if the cloud is based on a wrong focus? What would happen if we are using this information cloud to design products for our customers? Often times when we conduct market research, we find an overwhelming amount of data in terms of market trends and volume. We use the readily visible data and start extrapolating the needs of our customers. We don’t look, we think. Our analytical minds kicks in and we now design products to our understanding of our customers, and not really for them. We need to see through this cloud for more insights without getting blinded by it. That is the way forward for sustainable product development.
I read about the curse of knowledge in an NY times article.
The term curse of knowledge was coined first in a 1989 journal on political economy meaning that when you become the expert in some subject, it is hard for you to imagine not knowing what you do.
How many times have we been bitten by this? How many times we have inferred something completely subjective out of a customer engagement/inquiry? Do we understand what our customers really need? You will be amazed at the number of times we forget to ask questions because we are bitten by the curse of knowledge. Our perception and mental models of our own expertise provides the answers to the questions, which should not be the case. Our customers should be providing the answers. We need to ask them the questions and shut our mental models.
Let us start with the notion of “publics” as used by Dewey, an American philosopher and psychologist ; according to him, public can be defined as people organizing around a collective action. While Dewey talks about social conditions in general, I find this applicable to the technological world we live in. Hence, I extend Dewey’s definition of public to be a group of people around a collective action, which can be social or technological. In this context, the groups of circuit designers, who want to build great chips because that is where their passion is, form a public. Similarly, the entire semi-conductor industry can be thought of as another public whose focus has always been to design cutting edge chip solutions. There are now these two different publics, which the EDA companies are trying to design the tools for. Let us briefly understand the dynamics of these two publics.
The Circuit Design Public
The condition that defines and knits the circuit design public is the singular passion to do circuit design. Yet, within this larger emotion features an array of smaller issues that add depth and character to this public. Jack, a member of this public, is frustrated at the various things that are a hindrance to doing what he is passionate about. He does not like the organizational dynamics that force him to do something that he is not interested in doing. He does not appreciate why he has to spend majority of time looking at the data that is thrown at him by these “new tools”. Also, he is not happy that the art of doing circuit design is transforming from being an intuitive and challenging process to becoming a meandering and cumbersome process. He feels that yet another fast simulator is not what he needs but an efficient way to organize and get his day-to-day work done smoother so that he can spend time on things that are important to him.