The Ambiguity of Figuring Out Winning Products

Early product development entails numerous choices, and it seems at first glance like these choices could be 100 percent left brain or analyt­ical activity. For instance, the product development team at Adidas had to choose whether to bring out separate men’s and women’s shoes or to make a unisex shoe. They could have made this decision an analytical activity by surveying potential consumers to see what customers want, just like U. S. presidents have been known to use focus groups to test policy ideas. similarly, a product development team makes many other decisions, questions that they answer one way or another. in the Adidas 1, the sensors assess the sole’s compression, affected by weight, terrain, and runner’s speed, but the design team could also have incorporated a pedometer and calorie counter, as Puma AG considered doing back in the late 1980s. Should the Adidas 1 include a pedometer? In other words, would sales be higher if the model had a pedometer, or lower, or would it even matter? Until this is tested, the answer is unknown. Although the current shoe is not equipped with a link to a desktop or laptop, the in-shoe computer could conceivably have an outlet to download information into a laptop. What would happen to sales? Or the shoe could have a wireless transmitter to send data to a handheld PDA. Would sales be higher? Similarly, the design team has chosen to show off the circuitry via a clear plastic panel, but that, too, was a fac­tor that could have been optimized. How are costs affected by the clear panel? Will sales be higher? Adidas’s first smart shoe did not need to be designed for running—it could have targeted soccer, a sport Adidas has long dominated and a core area of its expertise. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Each decision can be tested in an experiment, like a test market. But not all decisions can be tested; there are just too many.

Without market tests that would show which integrated features are the best combination for the marketplace, it is not clear what exact product the company should develop to achieve the greatest improvement to the lives of customers and to the company’s bottom line. The answers to the choices (exact product specifications) are ambiguous rather than clear. Answers are ambiguous because infor­mation is lacking, but decisions still must be made. Decisions here are not safe, and ramifications of decisions are unpredictable.

Updated: September 28, 2015 — 1:17 pm