An MD&DI February 1997 Column
Developing products that meet the needs of all stakeholders requires
a tool that measures and scores those characteristics.
It's easy for an engineer or industrial designer to get pointed at the wrong target and to develop wonderful solutions to the wrong problems. Using a Product Value Matrix helps design teams identify and focus on the right problems. This matrix is a unique research tool developed by Ronald J. Sears, PhD, at the Design Consortium (Worthington, OH). This flexible tool enables designers to focus on the value of the total product system, rather than just adding new features to existing designs.
Forming the Product Value Matrix starts by identifying all the people who have a stake in a product, both inside and outside the company. Internal product stakeholders include members of corporate planning, marketing, sales, manufacturing, engineering, shipping, and service department. External stakeholders include patients, clinical staff, and hospital administrators, as well as facilities managers, refurbishers, and others.
The design team identifies product interactions for each of the above stakeholders by interviewing or observing people using the product. Each person's interaction with the product and their related needs and values are placed into a matrix. For each interaction, the matrix has categories of value, including purpose, physical design, cognitive factors, aesthetics, and emotions. An example might be for the maintenance technician (a stakeholder) to change a filter or adjust a setting (product interaction). This matrix provides a specification of each stakeholder's values in the outcome of the product design. With this information, a research team can begin to explore the importance of these values and determine how essential each value is to the resulting product.
Competitive products are benchmarked using the key product interactions already identified by stakeholders. Using the example of changing a filter, the team rates how easy it is to change a specific filter (low=1; high=4) and notes why the best design works well.
By calculating and plotting overall scores against market price, it is possible to map out which designs provide the greatest value for the stakeholders. The designer's goal is to ensure that any new product scores significantly better than currently marketed products.
Figure 1. Plotting benckmark scores of a product's value in relation to its market price shows how close it comes to its estimated fair value. For example, products D and E are priced fairly and product F is an exceptional value for the price.
The benchmark scores verify that the design team is addressing the issues most important to the most stakeholders. The team knows how well current products provide value in the interactions--where they have succeeded and where they need to improve. Benchmarking this information against competing products shows the design team additional opportunities for designing a more valuable product. The matrix also provides a chance for the designer to identify those situations where a single, efficient design improvement creates value for a large number of stakeholders. Designers can determine whether a task can be eliminated or simplified to improve ease of use.
This information becomes the basis for innovation sessions to launch the conceptual design with a targeted set of design opportunities. The design team can be confident that it is creating solutions that will be highly valued by product stakeholders. In addition, the benchmarking scores of current competitive products can be used to determine pricing and predict relative financial performance in the marketplace.