Phase 1: Idea Discovery — There’s a Good Idea in There Somewhere!

Pat Klingberg Idea-to-Launch, Machine Design

Phase 1: Idea Discovery — There’s a Good Idea in There Somewhere!

In Utilizing Design Process to Eliminate Waste and Create Custom Machinery, we began exploring the concept of using an idea-to-launch (I2L) process for developing custom equipment to reduce or eliminate ‘blind waste’ in manufacturing.

In this installment, we’ll discuss the first phase — ideation or idea conception — of a multi-phase I2L process in a little more detail. The number of phases is dictated by the process used and the complexity of the business problem it is trying to solve. The more complex, the more phases.

The First Phase is Most Times the Longest

The process of coming up with successful ideas is difficult — and it isn’t getting any easier even if you employ one of the many I2L processes.

In 1982, a Booz, Allen & Hamilton study revealed that for every 11 new product ideas 3 entered the development phase, 1.3 launched, and 1 was deemed successful. Jump forward to 2009, after analyzing multiple research studies, R.G. Cooper boiled it down to the following — to achieve 1 successful idea you need to start with 100 new ones.

Just getting past the gate that is at the end of this first phase appears to be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

It all begins with knowledge.

If you are “blind to waste,” where does one find possible ideas?

Internal: Data can be collected from customer service call logs, field service technician reports, manufacturing process reports, and the actual workers on the shop floor.

Other internal sources for ideas could come from suggestion boxes, reviewing current manufacturing core competencies, or even producing or reviewing a detailed value stream map of the business.

External: Data can be collected from wide variety of sources that give a voice to the customer — blind surveys, customer council brainstorming sessions, trade shows, and even social media exploration to name a few.

Yes, even social media is a place to learn more — by listening.

Techniques for generating ideas

People have gathered — be it customers, vendors or employees. How do you get the most ideas from these valuable resources?

Brainstorming, challenging assumptions, thinking in reverse, and mind mapping are just a few methods. Each of these encourages the free flow of thoughts, where there are no “wrong” answers.

First state the problem as you see it at that moment, but don’t discourage those thoughts that may uncover more underlying problems.

Assumptions are always roadblocks to making progress. Think of ways to get around the roadblock, they could expose areas of waste.

Starting with the end in mind and working backwards will allow for discovering ways to break those “fixes” that come from the other methods.

Last of these methods, mind mapping, allows for free-flowing word association that can be used when the other methods stall.

A survey done by Nielsen showed that 58% of people that spend time on the internet, spend a portion discussing service and product issues.

Current or potential vendors may have new technologies that could impact the product or the manufacturing of it. Even working with universities can provide ideas to work through the problem.

Great! We are getting ideas. Now what?

As ideas are developed what do you do with them all?

It’s critical to have a focus person — or extremely small group of people to accept and catalog them.

This person, or group, is responsible to make sure all of the necessary information —

  • the statement of the problem,
  • a rough financial impact to the business,
  • identification of business risks, and
  • an estimate on the effort it will take to accomplish the project

— regarding the idea is collected, and for communication back to the submitter on the status of the idea.

A litmus test for evaluating these initial ideas is answering the question; “can the hypothesis be tested?”

Mr. Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, believes testable ideas will produce better results through the rest of the process due to the rigor in developing the ideas.

Evaluation of all of these testable ideas requires purpose.

  • To make go, no-go decisions.
  • To prioritize those that are “go.”
  • To chart the path going forward.

Ultimately, the first gate is to make a commitment to spend a limited amount of money and time to further study the idea(s).

How? You may be asking. How do you evaluate all of these testable ideas?

Benefit measurement and economic selection are just two of the most popular.

  • Benefit measurement is accomplished through the use of a checklist or score card that answers whether the idea meets company developed criteria.
  • Economic selection, requiring financial performance data, determines if the ideas meet the company’s financial needs.

Evaluation comes down to making a determination if the idea is “real.”

  • Does it align with the overall strategy of the company?
  • Is it feasible to accomplish?
  • What are the killer variables that will present a roadblocks in the future?
  • What is the payback period if the money is spent?

I can’t state enough the importance of management buy-in with the decision to move forward on any of the ideas. If there is no management buy-in, the project will not be adequately resourced — and therefore take longer to implement or die on the vine.

Thus, consensus must be the order of the day during this gate as well as the upcoming one. Once consensus is met then everyone must go forward and leave those other ideas on the drawing board or in the waste basket.

Now that you’ve selected a few ideas to spend a small amount of money and time to test prioritize them based on their impact on the company — and they’ll have a path for going forward.

What’s next?

Each selected idea is scrutinized further by building a business case for each. We’ll discuss this in the next article.


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