Dissecting the Product Co-Creation Process – Part 1

3 04 2007

content co-creation model

Rethinking Current Product & Service Development

People in organizations are under a lot of time pressure. There is little time to explore, read, find out and broaden ones knowledge. No one challenges whether the question addressed is the right question or takes time to gather information – a lack of investment of time in the early phases of new product development is one of the most frequent causes of failure.

There is often no effort to find existing knowledge because people feel too pressured to get started. And often people don’t look outside familiar spheres or networks. A common problem among organizations is there is too little knowledge transferred between internal staff or member groups in different knowledge domains or business units.

Associations use a time honored process of collaboration between its volunteer leader subject matter experts (SMEs) and paid professional staff. These people develop content and the means to deliver it with periodic audience feedback via survey or focus groups to judge their value among those who consume it.

But the world of today is very different and the needs and expectations of the consumer are becoming quite different. Periodic “pulsing” of end users is not very accurate or speedy gauges for determining customer or member satisfaction or as a means of making adjustments to improve effectiveness. This is especially difficult to do with non-member customers groups.

At the same time, associations frequently experience a lack of volunteer SME’s to contribute their talents at various points along the product or service development process. This leaves staff tasked to find alternatives that may not ensure product or service quality.

The Product Development and Management Association, (PDMA) whose members represent product managers using proven product and portfolio management processes and tools, promote proven practices that can be applied across any business unit within an association. They discovered recently that even the largest non-profits do not apply existing and proven new product development processes across their various business units leaving each silo to make its own way.

Traditional product development generally breaks down into the following phases:

  • Ideation – a process to scope and evaluate a product or service concept
  • Business Case – product and project definition; project justification; and project plan
  • Design – the development of a product or service prototype; production, marketing, and test plans to determine its usability and effectiveness for the end user
  • Production – the construction of the product or service for distribution
  • Launch – distribution and promotion of a product or service

So, if it is becoming harder to find the right quantity of subject matter experts with the right experience and expertise at the point of need and if associations do not generally employ proven product development practices that are used across the organization, then how do you ensure a product or service that will be embraced by your target audience?

Product Co-Creation – An Expand Concept of Community “Peer Review”

The answer to improving this imbalance may be in the existing toolkit of an association – peer review, community, and people with passion.

Currently, many professional societies use “peer review” for managing content across many business units – publishing, meetings, education, awards,etc. Product-co-creation (a potential mix between volunteer or paid contributor content)  is essentially a “massively distributed” model of peer review. Instead of relying on a small group of volunteer experts in your peer review process, you can dramatically expand your access to talent by designing a process that let’s members volunteer to perform a host of functions. These volunteer functions can be very specific to their expertise and experience but they can also be asked to evaluate or contribute their ideas as part of the “market” you are attempting to design a product to serve. In essence, product co-creation is a process that more efficiently designs and produces products and services that end users will want to buy.

In a study of those innovators using open business models and product co-creation processes, one of the most important findings is the ingredient of community. Access to people who trust your organization and are motivated to improve their profession, industry or even themselves is critical. What is new is that “incentive systems” especially among for profit product co-creation models are moving beyond soft rewards (such as 360 peer evaluations that measure contributions or idea generation) to rewards that grant contributors a “piece of the action” or a financial reward should a product become successful. We’ll examine this in another post.

How Might Product Co-Creation Work for Associations

Using the diagram above as our guide let’s look at how we might employ this process.

As we discussed previously, a typical product development process includes these stages: ideation, business case, design, production, distribution. The value of employing a process like this across your organization is because it:

  • Puts discipline into a somewhat ad-hoc, chaotic process
  • Provides improved focus via “decision gates”, where the unproven are killed and efforts can be redirected to more promising projects and products
  • Ensures a complete process – no critical errors of omission and no missing steps
  • Builds the voice of the customer into new product projects
  • Creates transparency, is relatively simple, and easy to understand and communicate
  • Helps to define better requirements: expectations of a project team and leader at each stage and gate are spelled out
  • Manages business risk by breaking resource commitments into stages and more money spent up front which greatly improves the odds of success
  • Leverages project management methodology

Our product development team will consist of our volunteer leadership group of subject matter experts and our professional staff but will be supplemented by the community of members and even nonmember customers. This can be accomplished by issuing a “competition or challenge” for ideas that meet the definition of an essential need in the market among the community itself. This “ideas market” can permit members and even nonmember customers to post their ideas that can be placed into a runoff competition to pit member-generated ideas against one another in head-to-head competition where the voters are members of the community itself.

This process lets the market self-evaluate product or service concepts in “real-time” and gives members an opportunity to directly impact new products or services that can better meet their immediate needs and member ROI.

Behind the scenes, staff and volunteer leaders can conduct their own independent assessments as well as contribute ideas for new products and services using the same process. Final decisions about which ideas make it through the product ideation phase should rest with the association as it makes any final evaluations in terms of scope and fit to mission. Of course the evaluation measure you design for your community to use to assess ideas in this competition should help to vet this naturally.

The next stage in the product co-creation process is developing a business case. Here you can once again use your community of professionals to add value and speed the process of defining the business opportunity. This can be done by asking community members to register themselves into a database that gives you and your volunteer leaders information such as: 1) in what product idea they would like to work, 2) what specific area of the product development process, and 3) what specific skills or experience do they have.

This information will help staff and volunteers better qualify and then distribute expertise where it is needed across the remaining stages of this project. Working online in project teams, a team leader would be chosen, possibly a volunteer leader SME or maybe even a member of the community of user who registered to help. This project manager would work closely with staff.

Make sure to take a look at the Product Co-Creation in the site navigation above as well as the post on Cambrian House to see the crowdsourcing version of this phenomenon in action.

In Part 2, will continue down this process to launch.

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