The Set Up
I just returned from VIVA2018 and was called out for not addressing the topic of Opportunity Discovery, as promised in the Opportunity Assessment post.
So the question at hand is how do you discover new product opportunities? To figure out the answer we need to turn the coin over and see what is on the other side of this question. How do I discover unmet clinical needs? Once again, the answer is simple; it depends.
It depends on whether you are looking for a disruptive product, groundbreaking new platform product, an improved product, a line extension, or, an adjacent use for your current product.
There are formal and informal ways of identifying unmet needs. Both lead to the same unpredictable place, Insight. Both formal and informal methods require you to “live” in the World of your clinician customers. Both ways need you to collect experiential data. That experiential data can come from ‘true to life’ or ‘vicarious’ sources. They can be observed, reported first hand, or reported second hand.
The Formal Way
If possible, the formal process should
start with a loose objective. By this I mean it should be consistent with your current corporate positioning. I.e., if you are known for safety, then you should be looking for opportunities to provide a higher level of protection. If you are known for quality, then look for opportunities surrounding improving quality. If you are known as a company that brings therapeutic products then identify an underserved disease or patient type.
The MAUDE database (where mfg. report complaints, defects, and injuries) can provide rich experiential data with respects to needed product improvements. There are several challenges to using this database, but it is still a great first point of discovery.
Polling thought leaders is a formal way of identifying “pain” points. Just be sure to ask the open-ended questions first and then drill down. Don’t look for solutions yet. Secure an understanding in as much detail as possible first. E.g., your company has identified through an environmental scan that adjacent diseases state or technology is a direction they want to move in. It is emerging or already has high growth rates with little competitive activity.
Once you have polled the thought leaders in this new area and have developed a hypothesis; invite 10-20 physicians to a panel meeting and have an open discussion surrounding the needs of this emerging therapy. Concretely come to understand the challenges from all dimensions, science, clinical, business, reimbursement, regulatory, to name several.
Attend clinical presentations at medical conferences. Product managers get pulled in two-directions at these conferences. Booth duty, sales support and discovery. If one of your roles is up-stream marketing, then you must attend papers.
Hospital/Clinic time is becoming more difficult. There was a time where I had free access to spend a day wondering between OR’s just being there, listening to issues, watching for problems. Those days are no longer with us. Often you need to be in the OR for legitimate teaching purposes. There is often downtime between cases. Don’t waste that opportunity. Be curious. Be assertive. Be careful.
Conduct formal ethnographic studies staying consistent with the tenants of the discipline but realizing you are restricted in your ability to remain independent of the environment.
The Informal Way
Just because I label these as informal methods doesn’t discount them. You still have to be observant, aware and present to see them.
Wait to be approached by a physician or other clinician with an idea. It is better to have a formal process in place to handle these situations. IP and financial issues are often at stake.
Listen to the buzz at a trade show and see where it leads. It could be a start-up company displaying a product concept for the first time. It could be an established company that is holding a panel meeting; I always check the conference hotels’ directory for events of the day.
Have lightning strike, not literally, but rather from a position of immersing your self in the World of your clinician customer.
Look for parallelism, if your clinician customer is having a problem it is likely that it has been experienced before, in a similar disease or therapy or time. Don’t leap to a solution, but use the parallel experience as a guide to come to understand the problem.
You may have noticed that I have kept finding a solution separate from identifying the problem. They are two different processes. It is valuable to keep them separate.
It will prevent you from leaping to the first apparent solution and therefore missing the right answer.
“Experience is what you get, right after you need it most.”
Make it a great day,
Tim Walker is the Principal consultant for The Experia Group. A small consulting firm that specializes in providing experience and expertise during critical device commercialization phases to increase the probability of success. www.theexperiagroup.com. Contact The Experia Group for a free 30-minute consultation to determine if 30-years of experience can contribute to your success.
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