Focus on processes, not technology
This morning I was watching an inspirational video about the part Jeffrey Zeldman has played in shaping the web as we know it today.
In the early days of the Internet, the life of a web developer was plagued by browsers that competed with each other by constantly releasing innovative yet proprietary features. Zeldman was instrumental in bringing about the widespread adoption of harmonized web standards, and has created what appears to be a real community environment for those in his industry along the way.
One moment in the video that especially struck a chord with me was Zeldman talking about the need for developers to focus on solving users’ problems, rather than focusing on the technology involved. I instantly recognised how my own new product ideas are almost always solutions looking for a problem, rather than solutions based on an observed need.
When trying to think of some unsolved problems faced by humanity, I came to the conclusion that any problem we face is either directly or indirectly related to a process that we wish to carry out. Following on from this, I theorized that by considering the various attributes of the processes we seek to undertake, ideas for new or improved products and services may arise.
Process attribute analysis
Everything we do can be thought of as a process; from making a meal to travelling to work. These processes have attributes, or qualities, that are either more or less important depending on the needs of the person or group carrying them out.
For example, someone who lives far from their work may appreciate a quicker form of transport that reduces the overall time spent commuting, whereas this attribute may not be as important for someone travelling a shorter distance.
Likewise, someone with an otherwise sedate lifestyle may be looking for an opportunity to exercise on the way to work, possibly by jogging or cycling, while this may not be as important to someone with a physically demanding job.
By considering the desirable attributes of a process from the perspective of various user groups, it should be possible to discover needs that are currently unfulfilled.
Consider the process attributes related to transportation:
A quick and reliable mode of transport could be the personal car; this however requires total concentration from the user (it is active rather than passive). If there is an additional need to read or otherwise work during the commute, then taking a taxi may be a better option.
A second, and more radical product idea resulting from this attribute analysis may be a self-driving car (although these are now far closer to reality than fiction).
Commuters who enjoy social interactions may prefer public transport such as the bus or train; but what about those who also wish to enjoy greater health benefits? An innovative solution may involve empowering commuters to set up their own jogging or cycling clubs.
And what of those who further still would like to read while being active and social? How about the “far out” idea of replacing some normal seats on public transport with exercise bikes, thus creating a sort of mobile gym?
My process based ideas generation (PBIG) approach draws heavy influence from the morphological analysis creative problem solving technique. Morphological analysis involves breaking a problem into smaller chunks, listing different technological solutions for each chunk, and then combining the individual chunked solutions in new and unique ways.
The key difference here however is a shift in focus from the technology involved to the problems that society actually faces.
While PBIG provides a simple framework for the quick generation of ideas, a difficulty lies in imagining process attributes that are desirable by diverse user groups.
To achieve a complete set of process attributes, empathy must be created with each potential user. This could be achieved through the use of surveys, through interviews with individuals or focus groups, or through user observation.
I would be interested to hear any feedback on the PBIG framework, particularly examples of its use or ideas for further development.