Saturday, February 13, 2010

Innovation-Ideating a Product

Today morning, I was reading on a mobile economical water purifier product launched by TATA by name “SWACH”- This seems to be an awesome innovation that crosses social, technological hurdles and really is revolutionary!!

TATA Nano was path-breaking in its own way but “SWACH” has surpassed that- Research states that most of rural India lacks pure drinking water and this water purifier aims at solving that. TATA’s product pricing is going to be extremely low- maybe under Rs.1000 (<$20) and it aims at solving water-borne diseases like diarrhea, jaundice, typhoid, polio etc.

The product claims are as follows:
• Replaceable filter based
• Filter is based on low cost natural ingredients- Rice husk ash encapsulated with nano-silver particles
• Requires no energy or running water to operate
• Purify up to 3000 litres of water after which bulb needs to be replaced

TATA Swach is a result of collaboration between TCS Innovation Labs, TATA Chemicals and Titan- Fourteen patents have been filed for technology and the product. Aqua-guard should definitely watch out for this product!

From an innovation perspective, this is heavily thought- provoking – we were in an innovation workshop recently and the whole notion of ideating a product to fruition seems to be fantastic. I can correlate some of those concepts when I try to visualize it for TATA Swach. On an alternate note, I do remember a HBR innovation article on break through thinking where the researchers(Trish Clifford, Renee Dye and Kevin from Mckinsey) have elaborated on thinking “inside” the box rather than outside the box. Their whole claim was attributed to the limitations (prolificacy of ideas and data slicing ) of thinking outside the box. The whole idea was to generate questions that are not too broad but are abstracted at least 3-4 levels lower than the first point- This way innovators can arrive at the right questions that can prompt organizations to create the right product. I have got permission from Trish Clifford some aspects of that article and here goes the key take-aways which are the 21 questions!!

They have come up with 21 great questions for developing new products under these categories:

“De-average” buyers and users-
1. Which customers use or purchase our product in the most unusual way?
2. Do any customers need vastly more or less sales and service attention than most?
3. For which customers are the support costs (order entry, tracking, customer- specific design) either unusually high or unusually low?
4. Could we still meet the needs of a significant subset of customers if we stripped 25% of the hard or soft costs out of our product?
5. Who spends at least 50% of our product costs to adapt it to their specific needs?

• Examine binding constraints-
6. What is the biggest hassle of purchasing or using our product?
7. What are some examples of ad hoc modifications that customers have made to our product?
8. For which current customers is our product least suited?
9. For which particular usage occasions is our product least suited?
10. Which customers does the industry prefer not to serve and why?
11. Which customers could be major users, if only we could remove one specific barrier we’ve never previously considered?

• Explore unexpected successes-
12. Who uses our product in ways we never expected or intended?
13. Who uses our product in surprisingly large quantities?

• Imagine Perfection-
14. How would we do things differently if we had perfect information about our buyers, usage, distribution channels, and so on?
15. How would our product change if it were tailored for every customer?

• Look beyond the boundaries of our business-
16. Who else is dealing with the same generic problem as we are but for an entirely different reason? How have they addressed it?
17. What major breakthroughs in efficiency or effectiveness have we made in our business that could be applied in another industry?
18. What information about customers and product use is created as a by-product of our business that could be key to radically improving the economics of another business?

• Revisit the premises underlying our processes and products-
19. Which technologies embedded in our product have changed the most since the product was last redesigned?
20. Which technologies underlying our production processes have changed the most since we last rebuilt our manufacturing and distribution systems?
21. Which customers’ needs are shifting most rapidly? What will they be in 5 years?