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Customer Collaboration

customer collaborationProduct companies know that they should stay tightly connected to their customers and prospects. They understand that markets changes, needs shift, and competitors keep introducing new solutions. Most companies, however, don’t have a process for frequent, unfiltered, high-value interactions with their buying segments. They have not put continuous customer collaboration in place.

Traditional waterfall processes encourage product managers to get customer input only at the start of a design cycle – then wait nine (or twelve or eighteen) months for a product or new release to arrive. Products can be obsolete before arrival. As a cornerstone of Business Agility, continuous customer collaboration gives us the tools to understand customers better and spot trends more quickly, adjusting development priorities as well as our broader set of agile product management tools – roadmaps, backlogs, pricing, packaging, service design, partnering models – throughout the product cycle. This applies equally to new product development (NPD) and existing products.

Understanding and Collaborating with Customers

Buyers of software often have trouble understanding and clearly describing their problems, and articulating detailed solutions. Non-technical users lack the depth and vocabulary to precisely specify what they need; technical representatives are often missing clear priorities, user experience and company-wide scope. In addition, different market segments may have divergent priorities or needs.

Enthiosys has developed a leading customer research technique – Innovation Games® – and used it with dozens of companies worldwide. Innovation Games are a set of proven techniques for working with customers to gain new insights and deeper understanding, thereby allowing you to create higher value products and services. When used on a regular schedule, these techniques form the basis for continuous customer collaboration. This chart matches research objectives against the various games:

Forrester Research identified Enthiosys as a pioneer in serious gaming, writing extensively about Buy A Feature Online in a November ‘08 report. They call out serious gaming as a good way to collect and analyze product requirements. “Serious gaming… can circumvent many of the traditional problems with product requirements, including collecting sufficient information across customers, partners, and internal stakeholders to make product decisions. Not only are the games relatively lightweight exercises, but they also use a lighter touch to resolve many debates over product decisions.”

Engagement Model and Deliverables

The Enthiosys team tailors each Innovation Games engagement to the client’s needs and situation. This can range from managing a multi-city research project, providing facilitation for your sessions, or training your own researchers and product teams to run their own Innovation Games. A typical engagement would include:

  • Planning and design. Client and Enthiosys jointly identify research objectives, target segments/audiences, and key questions. We choose the best research techniques, which may include in-person collaboration sessions or Innovation Games Online. We scope the research (participants, locations) to client budgets and map out product-specific content.
  • Playing. Each in-person session brings together our clients and their customers in small facilitator-led groups. We apply our Innovation Games techniques to capture important insights into customers’ needs, priorities, motivations and value. Alternately, Innovation Games Online let us reach across the Internet to collaborate with your customers (prospects) around the world, boosting participation by reducing transit time.
  • Post-Processing. Innovation Games generate a tremendous volume of insights, customer, notes, observations and commentary. Enthiosys facilitators collect and distill these insights into research summaries. Clients also keep artifacts from Innovation Games such as “product boxes,” feature rankings, customer configuration maps and deployment timelines.

Powerful Insights

A major benefit of Innovation Games is that our clients learn directly from their customers – not filtered through online surveys or third party interview process. We bring you and your customers together so you can learn what they truly want and need, using refreshing and exciting interactions. We don’t hide behind one-way glass, and don’t believe that you should either.

Read more on the Innovation Games website or in Luke Hohmann’s groundbreaking book. You can also play Buy A Feature Online at http://buyafeature.com.