Let Gemba feed your new product development, not ego


As an entrepreneur or subject matter expert, building an product or service isn’t really difficult because you have all the ideas are packed in your head. In fact that is true for any one skilled professional. Unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee success when it comes launching a successful product or service.

Customers will choose or recommend products that best address their needs. Here’s an interesting real life story of a Jewish immigrant couple trying to meet their ends. In this process they end up building a business empire. I read this story in the book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell.

Louis and Regina Borgenicht landed in America in the year 1889 as immigrants. Louis was struggling to feed his family of four. He tried various odd jobs with little or no success. He was desperate and was about to quit.

Here’s an extract from the book:

“The answer came to him after five long days of walking up and down the streets of the Lower East Side, just as he was about to give up hope. He was sitting on an overturned box, eating a late lunch of the sandwiches Regina had made for him. It was clothes. Everywhere around him stores were opening—suits, dresses, overalls, shirts, skirts, blouses, trousers, all made and ready to be worn.

Borgenicht took out a small notebook. Everywhere he went, he wrote down what people were wearing and what was for sale—mens wear, women’s wear, children’s wear. He wanted to find a “novel” item, something that people would wear that was not being sold in the stores. For four more days he walked the streets. On the evening of the final day as he walked toward home, he saw a half dozen girls playing hopscotch. One of the girls was wearing a tiny embroidered apron over her dress, cut low in the front with a tie in the back, and it struck him, suddenly, that in his previous days of relentlessly inventorying the clothing shops of the Lower East Side, he had never seen one of those aprons for sale.”

Rest of it is rags-to-riches story. The couple built a thriving business and a niche for women and kids apparels.

This lesson of success hasn’t changed with time. If you want to be the Borgenicht of your business line, then let the designing your new product start with what we define as ‘Gemba’. It is a Japanese word implying ‘the real place’. Borgenicht painstakingly yet meticulously gathered insights from Gemba. For your products or service, ‘the real place’ is where it is been used by your consumers. Hence ‘Gemba’ is the fountainhead of your new product ideas and implementation roadmap. Market Research is supposed to do that, but in today’s world, it is outsourced to an agency. Market research reports contain only tangible factors but Gemba insights are missed or misunderstood.

If you have a new product or service development lined up, it would be in your own interest that you visit ‘Gemba’ and gather insights that will feed to the success of your product rather than review the new product development plan in the board room sipping green tea and munching cookies.

Consider a Gemba visit for the following:

  • Deciding your target segment
  • Who will buy our products and who will not?
  • Understanding common needs of different customer groups
  • Understanding articulated and unarticulated customer needs
  • Understanding customer journeys
  • Understanding substitutes and alternates for your product

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