15.356 | Spring 2004 | Graduate

How to Develop "Breakthrough" Products and Services

Lecture Notes


Who Develops Breakthrough New Products and Services - Users or Manufacturers? (PDF)

Before thinking about how to do concept development, we will explore who does this activity. Specifically, is the concept developer really a manufacturer - or is it a product or service user?


Systematic Generation of Ideas for “Breakthrough” New Products and Services - the “Lead User Method” (PDF
The complete article and Lead User Videos are available.

Users innovate when it is in their interest to do so. But not all user innovations will make a good product from a product manufacturer’s standpoint. Therefore, manufacturers must identify and learn from “lead” users. 3M and other firms have learned to network their way to lead users and then combine lead user ideas with their own to create “breakthrough” new products and services. The reading for this lecture describes the 3M experience.


Finding out What Users Really Need: The “Sticky Information” and “Learning by Doing” Problems (PDF)

It’s hard to know what users really want, because much user need information is “sticky,” and also because users learn by trying out prototype solutions - and then change their views of what they want.


Systematic Generation of Incremental Improvements to Existing Products and Services

Traditional Marketing Research Concept Generation Techniques (PDF)

Traditional market research techniques are most advanced in consumer products fields. Here, user needs are analyzed via multiattribute techniques, marketing and R&D personnel then use this data to develop new product concepts. Finally, the market potential of these ideas is explored via “focus groups” of representative consumers, questionnaires, etc.


“Brainstorming” and Creativity Training Techniques Lecturer: Jeff Mauzy, Principal, Synectics, Inc. (Cambridge, MA)

Many firms try to generate concepts for new products and services internally. Some researchers and consulting firms have developed techniques for increasing the creativity of ideas generated. Synectics is one of these. Jeff Mauzy is an expert in “structured brainstorming sessions,” and will lead some in-class exercises to give us a feeling for such techniques.


The MIT Media Lab Approach: “Build It and They Will Come.” Lecturer: Joe Paradiso, MIT Media Lab

The Media Lab houses very creative people (some of them leading-edge users) who build prototypes of new ideas and potential products based upon their own interests and needs. Lab sponsor firms are then invited in to look at the prototypes and see if they can identify links to their own markets and production capabilities. Often, interesting creative links result.


Determining Average Users’ Needs Ethnographically and Then Developing Solutions 
Lecturer: Dr. Harry West, VP, Design Continuum

Harry West teaches his firm to carefully and creatively study what users do via ethnographic techniques. Sometimes the user behaviors studied contain user-developed prototypes of desired solutions. Sometimes the users display a need that is apparent to the observers, but invisible to the user, who is so accustomed to a problem that he or she is unaware that things could be made better. Harry West is an expert in ethnographic observation techniques and will lead us through some actual case examples.


Why Users Share Innovations with Each Other and with Manufacturers: Informal Know-How Trading, Collective Invention and Voluntary Revealing (PDF)

People will share all sorts of information with you that is important for developing great new products and services. When and why will they do this? Sometimes it pays to simply give things away (as open source software developers do). Sometimes it has a lot to do with reciprocity (As Marcel Mauss put it “…a gift always looks for recompense.”)


Toolkits for User Innovation Lecturer: John Wright, International Flavors and Fragrances (PDF)

Sometimes the most efficient way to develop custom products and services is to give users the tools to do it themselves. This “toolkit” method has been pioneered in software, ASICs and other advanced fields.


User Innovation Communities - No Manufacturer Required

Users often innovate in communities of their own creation - no manufacturer required. Examples will be presented from the worlds of open source software and extreme sports. We will consider whether this pattern may represent the future for product and service development.


Resistance to Adopting Radically New Innovations - Even in Firms that “Want To”

Some people win - and some lose - when an innovation is introduced. The result is that it can be really difficult - impossible? - to get a radically new innovation adopted by a firm.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2004
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments