Lead user projects proceed through four phases. The length of each phase can vary quite a bit; the 3M team spent six months alone on phase 3, when it researched surgical conditions in developing countries through on-site visits. For planning purposes, a team should figure on four to six weeks for each phase and four to six months for the entire project.
Phase 1: Laying the foundation. During this initial period, the team identifies the markets it wants to target and the type and level of innovations desired by key stakeholders within the company. If the team's ultimate recommendations are to be credibly received, these stakeholders must be on board early.
Phase 2: Determining the trends, It's an axiom of the process that lead users are ahead of the trend. But what is the trend? To find out, the team must talk to experts in the field they are exploring people who have a broad view of emerging technologies and leading-edge applications in the area being studied.
Phase 3: Identifying lead users. The team now begins a networking process to identify and learn from users at the leading edge of the target market and related markets. The group's members gather information that will help them identify especially promising innovations and ideas that might contribute to the development of breakthrough products. Based on what they learn, teams also begin to shape preliminary product ideas and to assess the business potential of these concepts and how they fit with company interests.
Phase 4: Developing the breakthroughs. The goal is to move the preliminary concepts toward completion. The... [continues]
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