Like you, I wear many hats both at work and at home. Around the household, one of my hats is Chief Superintendent of Contamination Control and Biohazard Remediation. You might scoff and say, ‘Hey, that’s just a fancy title for “The Guy Who Cleans Up the Kitchen.” Well, yeah. Anyway, the general duties of this role include clearing out jars of fuzzy stuff in the fridge that used to be cheesy chip dip (yuk!), scraping off the petrified substances from behind the pull-out trash bin that my family insists is a basketball rim, and hand-washing any dishes that don’t go in the dishwasher. This last item - hand washing - is the inspiration for this month’s article, because it serves as a daily reminder to me of how difficult it is to get the voice of the customer right when developing new products.
Our kitchen has a drawer for those plastic containers with the snap-on lids used for storing food. Over the years, that drawer has collected a variety of products from different manufacturers. The ones that get used the most for leftovers, however, have a rectangular design for optimal storage density, and a confidence-inspiring lid snapping mechanism. So far, so good. Unfortunately, however, this particular brand has an unforgivable flaw: the bottom piece has too-tight inside corner radii. When I hand-wash these containers with a sponge to clean out the tuna pasta salad remnants, the too-tight radii cause jets of water/soap/tuna/pasta to squirt across the countertop.
The final verdict on this product? Great lid design, kudos for the space-saving shape, but an overall ‘D’ because the company failed to pay attention to cleanability. Maybe the designers were too focused on manufacturability of the bottom instead of usability. Maybe they assumed all plasticware like this goes into the dishwasher. Maybe they didn’t identify cleanability as a key requirement. I bet you never knew designing plastic containers for leftovers could be so complicated!
Too often, products are launched around a great idea, but followed up with sketchy discipline. They eventually go off the rails due to development teams missing the basics. Successful new product development is difficult, but it starts with identifying – and adhering to – the voice of the customer. Here are some tips for your NPD (New Product Development) teams to make sure they get VOC (voice of the customer) right.
If we apply these lessons to the effort that created my hard-to-clean plastic ware, what could that NPD team have done better? They could have easily identified cleanability as part of the requirement set; validated that the problems they were trying to solve (secure lid attachment) didn’t create an off-setting new problem (difficult hand-washing); and tested or watched others use the product as part of a container-sponge system.
It all seems easy, but as you can tell from my own ‘got it wrong’ projects, the voice of the customer is often hard to do. By learning from my mistakes and experiences, hopefully your NPD teams will have a better shot at getting VOC right.
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