Opportunity Mining: Fill Your Medical Product Pipeline with Innovations

 In Design Strategy, Medical Product Design, User Insights & Design Research

A medical product company’s lifeblood is their product pipeline. Keeping it full of high quality opportunities is one of the most important jobs of the executive team. If you’re running an established, mid to large sized company the sheer volume of product opportunities you require could be enormous! The problem is that many medical product companies don’t have a system in place for repeatedly and consistently collecting and evaluating ideas, or if they do, it’s not as effective as it could be.

Sure, suggestions stream in from sales and marketing, an engineer occasionally invents a new technology, and your business strategists are looking into acquisitions. But how many of those have turned into your next big product – and can you count on them like clockwork, over time?

In our experience, the very best ideas come from the place where your medical product is being used by people to improve lives. The unmet need, the unseen frustration, “the better way”, and your company’s future are all waiting there for you.

In a lot of ways it’s like mining for diamonds. After mapping out a plan, you need to go where the diamonds are, dig for them with the right tools, sort them from the rocks, cut and polish to make them shine, then return to the mine the next day and repeat. At MPE (Formerly Mindflow Design) we call this opportunity mining.

A couple decades ago, fresh out of design school, I started working for a large medical product company. A few months into it, a handful of us were moved into a private work-space and crowned the new product innovation team. Management checked in with us weekly over six months waiting for the golden egg that never came. Everything was wrong with that scenario; it was destined to fail.


The Process of Mining for Medical Product Opportunities

Mining for opportunities in the field requires an effective plan that’s focused on finding problems, not solving them (yet). We were designers and engineers sequestered, waiting with hammers for a nail to walk in the room. A successful plan that aims to mine opportunities out in the field should have the following attributes.

Looking in the right place

A few years ago, the VP of Design at Intuit’s Turbo Tax division did something seemingly crazy to most at the time. He loaded up what might have been hundreds of employees in busses, and dropped them off at people’s houses across San Diego so they could watch how people actually use their tax software. In the following years the company’s stock soared!

If you make products for sleep apnea, go to people’s homes. If you make products for people with breathing disorders like COPD, follow them throughout their daily activities. If you make critical care ventilators, shadow respiratory therapists in the ICU. Your team has to go where the diamonds are.

Using the right people and tools

First of all, EVERYONE on a product development project should spend time out in the field with users. There’s no better way to build empathy and understand the context of how your products are actually used. In the Intuit example they included just about everyone.

However, the best people to mine for opportunities are problem finders, not problem solvers. This is the job for trained human factors or user experience researchers, not salesman, marketers, or engineers.

A deep understanding of human behavior paired with the just the right research techniques and tools will yield the best results.

Sorting the good from bad

The good news is that the opportunities will start to roll in, but sorting and prioritizing them will be a challenge. Unfortunately there’s no one size fits all solution. You’ll need a method for sorting and prioritizing that works for your particular company.

We recommend establishing evaluation criteria in these three areas; business needs, technology possibilities, and end user needs. Most medical device companies already have a robust business and technology evaluation strategy. The gap is usually around the user needs criteria, or what the product development industry calls the fuzzy front end.

Ideating to increase value

How you execute on an idea is just as important as the idea itself. The value in your rough, uncut diamond encased in rock is invisible to most at this point. This is where a diverse team of creative problem solvers work their magic, finding and creating the value.

One of the best tools is collaboration through structured ideation sessions. A business person, designer, marketer, engineer, and end user ,for example, will all approach the problem through their own personal lenses. Through effective moderation, their varying points of view will force a state of creative abrasion that ignites the room. The result will be a defined value proposition that could be your company’s next big opportunity.

The last step is to bring your value propositions to life through illustrations, storyboards, or mock-ups and have them evaluated in the field. Put them through the ringer with end users and see if you’ve solved their problem or unmet needs. Your opportunity mining journey will lead to more than a full product pipeline. It will give your executive team confidence that the future of the company is secured through a steady stream of high quality future opportunities.

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