Innovation and New Product Development (NPD) involves three types of testing viz. concept testing, product testing and market testing. Of these the product testing or product use testing is the most overlooked one with avoidable negative outcomes for market success. But first are the three types of testing:
- Concept Testing: occurs in the early part of the NPD process after the firm has figured out its competencies and identified a pretty narrow market opportunity that it can serve. The concept test tries to gather feedback from prospective customers about the functions,features and benefits that the customer cares for. Starting with qualitative interviews and focus groups – researchers go to techniques like conjoint analysis to identify the relative weights of attributes that need to be built into the product.
- Product Use Testing: once the concept test results are in and the product is developed, prototypes are made and pilot production might also take place. Product use testing can take several forms like alpha testing that is done by employees and beta testing that would be done by users commonly seen in the software industry.Ideally the final market ready product should be used in a field setting, i.e. natural setting, by users.
- Market Testing is done once corrections are made from the product use testing. Market testing intends to test distribution,retail,merchandising and all those pieces that must be working even for a great new product.
So why is product use testing so important? Because from inside the organization you really cannot place yourself in the customers shoes, with absolute precision. Mere customer empathy is not enough. To understand this issue look at the example of a refrigerator door that has handles on both sides. Depending on where the refrigerator is placed in a room you might misunderstand where the hinge is and avoid pulling off the door. The solution would have been to provide a cover for the recessed handle so that there would be less confusion among users. And it is not human factors alone but the ability of the innovation team to replicate all the alternative ways that a customer might actually use the product.
So why does the innovation team loose steam at the product use testing stage? Probably each member is so highly invested in the new product and so tired that they just want to get it done with. Thus project sponsors and top leaders must insist on good product use tests and modifications because these changes would be inexpensive and can make a huge impact on market success. This is also a stage where top leadership must encourage the innovation team to hang in there and sprint through this almost last mile of testing.About StratoServe.