Dodging Healthcare Product Development Failures, Part 2 – Developing Uncanny Customer Insight

October 8th, 2014
Posted by

In product development, a lot of parts have to be working well for the whole project to succeed. In my last post, we talked about the need for a disciplined approach to developing a product, as well as the need to think beyond the prototype and its design. In this post, I’ll talk about another area of enormous importance to successful development—insight. Just as development isn’t just about product design, insight isn’t just about what your customers say.

Pitfall:  Insufficient customer insight
Truly disruptive innovations address a need that customers can barely articulate before being exposed to the product. Examples of this type of successful development abound; from smartphones to intermittent windshield wipers to single-use bioprocessing. None of these new products addressed a known, clearly expressed need, but in today’s world we couldn’t imagine living without them. While listening to customer ideas, complaints and expressed needs is necessary, product development can’t stop there. Many products that sound perfect during customer interviews end up unused (and unusable) in the real world. Developing something truly new and useful depends on an uncanny insight around what customers are trying to achieve, their environments and the capabilities of alternative technologies.


How to avoid this pitfall: Immerse yourself in understanding the problem
The old adage about learning applies to product development: “I hear and I forget. I see and I believe. I do and I understand.” Hearing a customer’s views is important, and seeing a product has value, but neither of these activities beats understanding an unmet need. For example, I once reviewed a product concept that made sense from interviews and on paper. But observing an emergency room for three days showed me that the proposed product addressed a problem that the emergency room staff had already solved. The decision to redirect resources was only possible due to the insight gained from being in the room.

While observation is important, actually working in the customer’s environment is another way to develop insight. Once, while developing some orthopedic implants, I arranged to have team members receive surgical training and actually implant devices in a cadaver. This hands-on experience in implanting devices allowed us to figure out what mattered and what didn’t. We intuitively began to understand anatomic landmarks. The insight we gained from this “doing” helped us make decisions more rapidly and confidently. In the next post, we’ll review another element needed for successful product development: how to make teamwork actually work for you.

At Popper and Company, we can help you create new strategies, ideas, and inventions to address true unmet needs and give your company (and its products) a sustainable market advantage. To learn more, please subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or email me at

Like this content? Don’t miss an update.

About the Author:

Throughout my career, I have repeatedly grown businesses by delivering innovative medical products in markets such as drug delivery, medical information, orthopedics and dentistry. Today, I work with a variety of startup companies, helping them to articulate compelling investment propositions and to develop their proprietary medical technologies.