How to Conduct Good Customer Visits – 16 Tips

visitorVisiting customers can be exciting, frightening, inspirational or even depressing. Every once in a while you might hit upon that one customer that criticizes you honestly, but constructively, that tells you both the whats AND the whys, and that truly represents an accurate common denominator of your product’s users.  But they are typically few and far between.  So being prepared to maximize the scant time you’re able to spend with ANY customers is a necessity to make the trip worthwhile.

Below is a link to an article written by Edward McQuarrie, author of the seminal book on the subject, aptly titled Customer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus.

In the article, How to Conduct Good Customer Visits, Dr. McQuarrie outlines 16 fundamental tips for how to prepare and conduct yourself.  He answers questions such as:

  • How many and what profile of customer should you target?
  • How much of your staff and which functions should participate?
  • How should you structure the visit and what type of questions should you ask?
  • What are the things you should do after the visit to best capture what you’ve learned?

To download the article, click here.



Putting Open Innovation on the Map


If you Want to Find an OI platform to Get and Manage, here’s a nifty, albeit incomplete, interactive map graphic created by the students at Heilbron University in Germany.
  The map is designed to help people find OI and crowdsourcing platforms in any part of the world through a virtual map, a very fancy word for what seems like just a directory.  Hovering over the dots on the map will call up a box with a brief description of the platform provider and a link to respective websites.

The map can be filtered by business and service type and currently contains approximately 40-50 entries.  We noticed quite a few platforms missing, but we’re not sure how long this has been around and whether or not it is being actively updated.  Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any mechanism for suggesting new entries.  It is also interesting to see where OI services are concentrated, we know US and Europe are the hotbeds, but we’re interested to see if the other parts of the world will fill in at some point in the future.

To see the map, click on the image above or click right here.


Beyond the GANNT chart – Advanced Project Management for NPD


Management fads may come and go, but the one that outlasts them all is sound project management.  While it’s not nearly as sexy-sounding as “six sigma,” when’s the last time you heard someone boast about their black belt?  Coordinating the myriad of complex disciplines (and their respective complex people!) to bring a product to market remains a singular challenge above all others.

The complexity surrounding today’s NPD projects seems compounded by two major factors: 1) the expanding scope of a product’s embedded technology (e.g. software, wireless connectivity); and 2) the expanding scope of participating stakeholders (e.g. open innovation, supplier partnerships, crowdsourcing).  Long gone are the days of command and control, co-location of team members and “dumb” (unconnected and software-disabled) products.

To manage these new realities, some companies are having success by applying principles from lean manufacturing, agile software development and even social networking to R&D and NPD projects.  Using specific tools from each discipline, such as Cadence, Flow and Pull from manufacturing, and Burn Down Charts, Waterfall and Sprints from software development, one can create a toolbox that manages all the new project risks that have surfaced over the years while also exposing leverage points that can improve efficiency and market performance.  And by employing modern social networking media, one can effectively manage partners and suppliers as well as communicate efficiently with project teams.

Want to learn more about the latest in Advanced Project Management?

Join us on May 22, 2013 for a complimentary webinar, “Advanced Project Management for Product Development: Applying Lean and Agile Principles to Managing Partners” led by John Carter of TCGen, Inc.  This webinar is the part four of a five-part series on the skills, tools and methods that compose the “Advanced Project Management” discipline.   The May 22nd session will provide an introduction to the key concepts and provide practical, tools-based knowledge on managing partnerships and collaborative innovation.

Clarification:  This webinar will not be discussing “wearable white boards”.

Related Links:

Combining Best Practices for Next Generation R&D Management

“Best Practice” is, of course, a super Dilbert-y phrase and one that often elicits either admiration or contempt The danger of best practices comes when they are followed blindly, verbatim and merely copy-catted with the hope of someone else’s results.  The beauty of best practices comes in when they are applied with consideration of context and adjustments made wherever necessary to custom-fit.  I’m sure every company has examples of both in their history, including yours and mine.


R&D Managers are often inundated with “best practices” and almost never have enough time to evaluate them, let alone incorporate them into their daily business of generating innovation, technology and profits for the company.  Today’s stewards of R&D need a lightning fast method to expose themselves to the difference-making processes available to them and shown clear examples of the path between implementation and results.

An upcoming one-day program June 19, 2013 in Alexandria, VA, from Management Roundtable and Knowledge Foundation, uses over 30 years of experience to separate the wheat from the chaff and present R&D managers with best practices that have been tested across numerous companies and industries over many years in a format that will efficiently educate you on the latest and best tools finding success today.

The root of this program will focus on the following areas and will be covered by leading experts of their respective fields from industry, academia and consulting:

  • Product & Technology Roadmapping
  • Collaborative and Open Innovation
  • Agile and Lean Development Methods

Faculty for this event will include in-depth case studies from companies such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Intel, FedEx and MeadWestVaco.


WFGM Framework – A Basic Open Innovation Best Practice

wantfindgetmanageThe “Want, Find, Get, Manage (WFGM)” model is one of the most adopted conceptual frameworks for open innovation.  This is definitely one of the places new people should start when trying to educate themselves on the subject and provides a very easily understood way to compartmentalize the key concepts of managing Open Innovation.

Gene Slowinski, author of The Strongest Link and Reinventing Corporate Growth, outlines this model very clearly in an article on his website, “Open Innovation and Alliances – “Good Practices” in OI“.

Here’s an excerpt of the article overview:

Open Innovation (OI) has become a mainstream organizational process. Firms are establishing OI groups, allocating budgets, and measuring results. In this article, we identify twelve “good practices” associated with high quality Open Innovation. In our experience, these practices are key inputs to the firm’s OI system, leading to high quality OI results when effectively executed. The goal of this article is to help management build the practices into their OI system and make continuous improvements in their OI processes.

Gene Slowinski is the lead instructor for MRT’s popular workshop:
Open Innovation Master Class – June 20, 2013 in Chicago


NASA Roadmaps the Future of Space Travel Technology

NASA_Roadmap You can never have enough examples of product and technology roadmaps

Over a half century removed from man’s first forays into outer space, it still boggles the mind that humans were able to harvest the technological might to break the atmosphere of our planet and also set foot on our moon.  And we did it all without Six Sigma black belt programs!

When you consider the vast amount of engineering resources required to organize, plan, design, manufacture and employ vehicles capable of space travel, it’s even more impressive to view the technology roadmaps that help NASA meet their mission critical objectives.  On top of that, things have gotten infinitely more complex since we primarily used primate and canine pilots, things like nanotechnology, robotics and advanced communication systems.

The good folks at NASA have been kind enough to spend some of their funding to help us tax-paying citizens understand the full scope of what’s involved in developing a space travel program.  The following links will take you to several roadmapping resources, including a nifty interactive infographic, that may help companies learn how to make such complex systems more visually organized.


With Open Innovation, Some Company’s Eyes are Bigger than their Stomachs

GiantDogBoneInnovation Partnership company NineSigma has just released their latest report which outlines the results of their Open Innovation survey.  Conducted from October 2010 through September 2012, over 750 companies participated in the research which was conducted to take a temperature reading of current industry maturity with collaborative innovation methods.

The overarching conclusion of this research seems to be that while interest and engagement with Open Innovation remains high, internal roadblocks are preventing companies from getting out of their own way and stunting progress.  Also of note, very few companies are reaching a level of maturity with it to consider themselves in a leadership position.

The most common reasons cited for these issues point to a widespread weakness in the ability to adjust existing internal business processes to accommodate the specific needs to do Open Innovation well.  We would guess this means the particularly sticky issues of  garnering support/trust from multiple necessary functions (NIH Syndrome), patents and intellectual property and meshing an external partner’s methods and development practices with one’s own.

Below is a compilation of links relating to this study, including a link to where you may download a copy of the full report.

Related Links: