Piccolotto, Zeljana (2008) Innovazione di prodotto User-Centred. [Ph.D. thesis]
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When managers think of product development, they all dream of the same thing: a stable stream of breakthrough products, the kind that will allow their companies to grow rapidly and maintain high margins. Unfortunately, instead of breakthroughs, the development teams of many companies produce mainly line extensions and incremental improvements to existing products. Given the imperative to grow, why can't product developers come up with breakthroughs more regularly?
For incremental innovations a company can apply a variety of proven market research methods. For example, some "need assessment" methods can be used to generate promising ideas for innovations early in the process. Then, quantitative user questioning, focus group discussions and sophisticated conjoint analysis techniques can be applied to examine whether early product concepts meet general customer needs or not. But for breakthrough innovations the situation is very different. The results from conventional market research studies continually evoke dissatisfaction. It appears impossible to determine the demands of tomorrow's markets via traditional market research methods.
The most important limitations of proven market research methods seem to be the fact that market researchers are referring to a group of "typical" customers that represents the population of the target customers. The approaching of these customers into new product needs and potential solutions is constrained by their own real-world experience. Hence, it seems reasonable that the familiarity with existing market offers often inhibits to conceive substantial novel product attributes. Moreover, most of the market research techniques do not offer appropriate ways to discover new product attributes and ideas outside the well-known solution space. There are no mechanisms to induce involved customers to formulate emerging needs and to identify new solutions to those needs.
The research on Lead User shed some light on this noteworthy topic. It offers a scheme for achieving product, service and strategy breakthroughs. The process, proposed by Professor Eric von Hippel, is based on two major findings:
- First, there are a lot of empirical evidences on user innovation. In fact, many commercially important products are initially thought of and even prototyped by product users rather than manufacturers.
- Second, such products tend to be developed by "Lead Users" (companies, organizations or individuals) that are well ahead of market trends and have needs that cannot be filled by any product currently on the market; thus they are forced to develop solutions for themselves.
Taken together, these two discoveries transforms the difficult job of inventing breakthroughs from scratch into a systematic task of searching for and learning from lead users that have already developed elements of commercially attractive breakthroughs for themselves. This process was called by von Hippel as "User Centred Innovation" process and underlying theory was labeled as "Lead User Theory".
While the Lead User method is well explained in the literature and adopted with success by some companies, yet, little is known about critical success factors of the method's implementation in the fuzzy front-end phases of firm's innovation projects.
This research, then, aims to extend previous research by exploring the following issues:
- First, individuation of different aspects related to firms which can influence the process of adoption of User-Centred method and its final results. In particular the research focus was posed - Second, a better understanding of Customer Involvement Practices into Product Development Process. How currently customer needs are assessed and how this information is used within the firm?
- Finally, individuation of possible aspects related to User-Centred innovation and Lead User Theory in general which can provide better insights on possible improvement of proposed method.
For the purpose of this study, the multiple case study was chosen as the research method due primarily to the nature of the research question. Different researchers recommend this method as the most appropriate when contextual conditions are believed to be highly pertinent to the phenomenon of the study, or when the research question embodies an explanatory component, such as in this study.
- Chapter 1 illustrates the Lead User Theory and the User-Centred innovation process emphasizing the role of producers within such context.
- Chapter 2 gives a picture of theoretical framework, reference's constructs and research questions.
- Chapter 3 reports on methodology adopted in order to conduct this research and illustrates the research protocol.
- In the chapters 4-5-6-7 is explained within case analysis performed on four selected case studies, while in the chapter 8 is reported cross-case analysis.
- Finally, chapter 9 contains the main results of the research and provides insights for the further research.
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