Innovation at 3m

Lead user, Innovation, Strategic management

There are two major issues highlighted in this case study:
1. Is the ‘lead-user’ process, an effective method for research and subsequent product innovation? 2. Should the Medical-Surgical Markets Division (MSMD) lead-user research team present its revolutionary new approach to treating infection to senior management despite the fact that it challenged the existing business strategy? QUESTION 1

The answer to the first question is ‘yes’. By the mid-1990s the MSMD had not had a breakthrough product for almost a decade. The surgical drapes product had been very successful but there was little room for growth in existing markets, shrinking margins on existing products and minimal sales in developing countries (due to the high costs). Team leader Rita Shore had to identify new customer needs and new way of looking at the product or the division risked being made redundant. So the initial goal was to find a better/cheaper kind of surgical draping. Through a combination of intense academic and field research, determining major trends and intensive workshops involving lead users from a variety of backgrounds the team was able to generate a list of concepts that it then further refined based on a system of metrics for ranking ideas that they had also created. The team was then able to recommend three product-line concepts to present: 1. An economy line of surgical drapes

2. A ‘skin doctor’ line of hand held devices
3. An armour line that would coat catheter and tube in an antimicrobial coating So a pilot project for the lead user method had already resulted in one incremental innovation (economy surgical drapes) and two new product proposals (skin doctor and armour line). Additionally the team had identified a truly revolutionary approach to infection control – one that, if implemented, could not only open up an entirely new market for 3M but also mean the start of a whole new set of product lines and business...
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