Embracing Product Thinking in the Innovation Lab

Often, innovators focus heavily on simply solving a problem facing the business, yet don’t invest time mapping out how they’ll solve the problem. While this can result in effective new products or services, it offers no guarantee your innovation department’s work will find success in the marketplace.

Typically, that failure to resonate with customers stems from a lack of real user input in the early stages of development. An idea may solve a problem, but you can’t build a business if it doesn’t solve a critical problem for your customers. Product thinking, or design thinking, ensures an innovation framework which constantly focuses on the end-user, rather than simply a business goal.

Applying product thinking techniques at early stages of ideation and prototyping can build an iterative, user-focused approach to new product development that results in fewer failed projects and betters customer outcomes.

Design is More Than Shapes and Colors

It’s easy to pigeonhole design as something reserved for the creative department, and only important once a product prepares to enter the marketplace. Yet, true design simply means thinking how a product will impact the people who use it. Finding your path to impactful design requires a commitment to gathering user feedback early and often throughout the product lifecycle — something many enterprises struggle to do.

Product thinking provides a new lens for most corporate innovators. Given the pressures of the enterprise, most innovation labs share the business-first, customer-next mentality to new ventures. While the needs of the core business remain paramount, creating a path from product to business requires thinking of the features and experience of the core user.

Tim Brown of IDEO, the product design lab, explains in his TED Talk that starting with customer problems — rather than a business need or a specific technology — results in better products, delivered more efficiently.

Focusing on customer problems alongside business needs helps define a roadmap for prototyping, testing and validation, providing innovators a cleaner path from innovation lab to marketplace.

Finding a Product That Fits

In the early stages of ideation and product development, product-solution fit means a smoother path to product-market fit upon commercialization. To find that fit, innovators should apply a few questions to every idea that crosses their whiteboard:

  • Which business goal will this product meet?
  • Which user pain does the product solve?
  • What metrics will prove customer viability?
  • Can this product scale into a business?
  • How will this idea be built?

Beyond merely guiding a project through your lab, the answers to these questions give innovators the insight to push back against features that don’t resonate with users. Product and design thinking should not be the sole domain of your corporate creative department, and by focusing on the business unit’s end-user, you’ll generate ideas more likely to succeed in the marketplace.