We love Duncan’s easy going Texas demeanor, but don’t let that fool you. He is very driven in his desire to help others understand both Blueprinting and B2B Product Launch. His years of experience implementing these practices at Dow are coming in handy now with AIM clients in all number of businesses. We sat down with Duncan to ask him a few questions about his experience with the front- and back-end of innovation.
Duncan: I actually have two favorite steps – Discovery Interviews, where you get to learn so much about what the customer is doing, what they think is important, and why they think it is important; and Product Objectives, because that is where all the Voice-Of-Customer comes together to give you insights about where and how to move forward with your product development initiatives.
Duncan: For me it is the opportunity to “listen and learn”. A Discovery Interview is focused on whatever is important and interesting to the customer, not necessarily on what we want to know. That is also what makes it challenging – to let go of your pre-conceived biases and simply follow the customer wherever they lead, and know that it will be “good stuff”.
Duncan: Well, there are lots of ways that people learn, and we try to offer different approaches that work with the various learning styles. But the only way to really learn Blueprinting is to get out in front of customers, and as Nike says, “Just do it”! You won’t ever master riding a bicycle by simply reading about it, and you won’t learn to conduct good interviews except by talking to customers.
Duncan: I was exposed to a consultant a long time ago – William Conway, and his “Right Way To Manage”. I have always remembered one of his key messages – major initiatives take three things: the Will to Do It, the Wherewithal to Do It, and the Belief That It Can Be Done. Blueprinting fits in this model. People in the organization (leaders and front-line practitioners) must have the commitment to learn and implement these new skills. They must have the training and practical experience necessary to execute these new skills with customers in the market. And finally they must be confident that when they use Blueprinting, it will super-charge their innovation efforts and create value for their customers, and for them.
Duncan: Since the very first workshop! I was there in Philadelphia in late 2009 when Dan [Adams] delivered the first Launch Planning & Execution class, along with the initial version of LaunchStar® software. I have been teaching and coaching the material ever since.
Duncan: LaunchStar is very flexible, so that it can work in many different applications. It can support a large and complex commercialization project. But it can also help with the planning and communications for a small project, or even a line extension. Some teams have even used it for the re-launch of a product that initially didn’t meet expectations. You can adjust the level of rigor and documentation up or down to match the project, without losing the fundamental principles that apply to all launches.
Duncan: That’s easy – it is linking the insights discovered in the early exploration stages (with Blueprinter), to the messages and activities that we plan/execute (with LaunchStar) in the commercialization stage. For example, the customer outcomes with the largest Market Satisfaction Gaps should be front-and-center in the value proposition that we are launching. The language that we use in the promotional materials of launch should come directly from the customer interviews. Too often we fall in love with the new product’s attributes, and forget about the customer’s problem we were trying to solve!
Duncan: Texas is a place, but as someone once said, it is more “a state of mind”. When I travel outside of the US, most of my US colleagues say “I’m from the US”, or “I’m American”. I have always found it interesting that people from Texas answer the same question with “I’m from Texas”, without thinking twice. I must admit, I do the same! So maybe it really is a bit different here!
For a full bio on Duncan (and others at AIM), please see the AIM Team section on our website.