From Social CRM to "social" PLM, developing products in a social environment
Wisdom of crowds and crowdsourcing are all the buzz in CRM circles these days. The concept grew out of the Web 2.0 world and is popping up all over the place. My friend Michael Krigsman has recently posted some interesting videos and observations on collective intelligence, wisdom of crowds and crowdsourcing on his ZDNet Blog on IT Project Failures. I'll let you read his blog for more depth on the concepts involved.
I started doing some research on what I'm calling ideasourcing last year and at first focused on the more CRM aspects of applying the concepts for business, but I am increasingly interested in the cross over into other enterprise applications and processes. Because of my time at a couple of product design software companies, I have a reasonably good understanding of many different product development processes and the tools, challenges and pressures associated with bringing a great product (or even a less than great product for that matter) to market. The company that brings the "right" next product to market is often the winner, first to market or closest to what customers value (or perhaps the best marketing but that's a different topic entirely) and you gain market share against your competitors.
There are many difficult points along the concept to design to manufacture process where your business can run off course, but one of the most feared failures is building the great product that no one wants. The mismatch between customer needs, wants and desires and the vendor's "understanding" (or lack of understanding) of those same needs, wants and desires can be catastrophic.
So can a product development / design team successfully apply ideasourcing to their design process? There are already some community software products available to capture the idea part of the customer community (uservoice, BrightIdea, salesforce.com Ideas, HiveLive, etc.) and then enable the community to "vote" on the idea. This is at least a start in aligning customer's desires to the companies product plans. (And by the way, I don't mean to discount other product marketing tools and techniques; they have their place as well.)
The power of the community (assuming you have a community) can produce well vetted product ideas that represent the collective desires of your customers. There are a few necessary characteristics for the community to function, however. The concept of wisdom of crowds is built on the effect of asking questions across a broad and diverse group. This group must be actively engaged with your brand but independent from it (not controlled by you). The individuals in the "crowd" must be acting on their own but in the end all of the independent inputs have to be collected and aggregated.
The solutions I've seen for the most part break down after the aggregation, though. The inputs are generally used manually to help guide the product design process but are not captured in a continuous workflow process that is integrated into product conceptualization and design. BrightIdea is something of an exception to that, as they have developed 3 products that shepherd the idea from collection, to aggregation / scoring all the way through to a project.
In my opinion, though, we need to integrate the ideasourcing solution into the rest of the concept to manufacture process. (I will save the social field service discussion for another post, but I think there is opportunity for PLM vendors on that end of the product process as well.)
One last thought, I was reading a very interesting post on the Dassault Systemes official blog 3D Perspectives that takes social product development in another direction. I've written and talked about the first productive social web communities in the past. so I'll just remind you that in my opinion open source software development communities led the way in breaking the ground for socially (or community) developed products.
In the post, Jonathan Dutton (a Dassault employee responsible for automotive strategy) suggests that product design could be run in a similar way to open source software. Jonathan offers up several examples of companies that are trying open source product development including riversimple, a UK based automotive company. I haven't done much research about the idea of extending the open source software development model to products, but given the fact that the model produces very high quality and relevant software, I don't see why the same result could not be achieved for other products. This emerging model definitely peeks my interest and will merit a deeper investigation.