February 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm #153579
Last week we had a guest lecturer in my marketing class, a man who had graduated from our program and had gone on to launch several successful consumer products. His current venture: organic salted chocolate, which he sells in several flavors.
During the Q&A session one of my classmates asked how he figures out which new flavors to try. His answer surprised me: it’s a scientific guess based on what he knows about his customers. He doesn’t like focus groups; they’re notoriously fickle. Customers will often say that want one thing, like healthy options at a fast food restaurant, and continue to order to most unhealthy things on the menu given an alternative.
Of course, we don’t sell chocolate or fast food hamburgers, but as acquisition professionals, we do serve a group of customers and need to deliver them the best product, based on their mission needs and capability gaps. “Scope Creep” is a dirty word in the acquisition business, but is all too common because we haven’t figured out what our customer REALLY wants. We all know what this leads to: cost and schedule overruns, four other dirty words in our business.
So how do you get your customers what they really want? Do you educate them on the acquisition process? Do you have them evaluate your analysis of alternatives? Do you choose knowledgeable COR’s? If you have success stories, we want to hear them!
February 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm #153583
Great post – I kind of agree with him on focus groups. I just read the book “The Method Method” which basically said similar things – it argued you needed a basic amount of market research, some feedback from customers, but in the end the main thing is you need a “point of view” on what the customer really wants.
Same is true with acquisitions – in the end what does the program manager really want – at highest level it’s usually about solving a problem or mission challenge – with the hope that X product/service can help solve it. It’s not getting X product/service just to have it
February 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm #153581
Right, I believe we fail in the definition of a need/want and determining its root cause. I don’t think the customer often cares about how we acquire things (or, how a product is developed, etc.) – but it should be our job to help them figure out what it is they truly do want. A simple and pretty old method is the “5 whys”. As in, customer states: “I want / need a healthy salad at fast food restaurant x.” If you keep asking why, you may discover that the customer only thinks they want it because they feel they should, but what they truly want is a less expensive option on the menu. Or, different cheese options for their burgers, or variety in portion sizes, or perhaps more options for their kids.
Don’t assume that the customer always knows how to ask for what they want, or isn’t just parroting it based off of a collective social norm, perceived want, or even a management-directed want. I do believe focus groups have value, but think that facilitators can go into them assuming that participants understand what they want or how to convey it. I don’t think that’s always the case.
Regarding acquisitions – the PM isn’t the customer; the PM executes to deliver something to a customer, an end user. So he/she needs to understand the need and the requirements and feel comfortable enough to deliver to that.
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