The competitiveness of technology-driven businesses depends heavily on their ability to innovate. Successful innovation is crucial for ensuring the survival of an enterprise. Furthermore, customer input is invaluable for the efficient development of new products or services. However, companies say that this process could be changed and improved. This is why we set up Project Valerie, a new research project within Business Design & Innovation, which focuses specifically on this area.
Van Hoecke was one of the first enterprises to take part in the project and has recently completed it. We asked Stijn Van Avermaet, the company’s Marketing Manager, what the project has yielded.
Van Hoecke is the market leader in drawer systems in the Benelux region. That doesn’t mean it can rest on its laurels: To ensure its representation and to expand, it has to continue tapping into new markets. “We are sitting on a saturated market share. If we want to continue growing, we will have to develop new products using an effective strategic approach,” Stijn explains.
“We are sitting on a saturated market share. If we want to continue growing, we will have to develop new products using an effective strategic approach.”
“We produce various types of wood, but we had the idea of starting to use another resource, namely volkern®. We had the impression that there was a high demand for it, especially from the care sector.” It was time to put that to the test. That is what they did, eventually, by taking part in Project Valerie. Because the conclusions from the user research turned out to be different than expected, the project was brought to a close. Stijn reflects on a turbulent but enriching learning process.
Once Project Valerie was under way, the Van Hoecke employees conducted research using a variety of methods: stakeholder mapping, personas and qualitative interviews. According to Stijn, stakeholder mapping was a revelation: “We realized that we are unfamiliar with a large part of the market’s needs and that we had made too many assumptions in the past.” The most surprising outcome emerged from creating the personas and the subsequent interviews: “Contrary to our expectations, we saw that there was no latent need for drawers made out of volkern in the care sector.” Consequently, the project was shelved, but Van Hoecke draws valuable lessons from the project.
“We realized that we are unfamiliar with a large part of the market’s needs and that we had made too many assumptions in the past.”
“We have to start working outside in,” Stijn says, “dealing with everything more effectively using customer validation. In the past, in retrospect, we too often produced products and then realized that there was no real demand for them.” This lesson in design thinking has to be applied to market research, Stijn says. “Above all, we have learned that we have to validate everything well and that we want to use this validation all the way up to value-based pricing. We have to deal thoughtfully with these new products on busy production lines and in times of market stress. This was a real eye-opener for our CEO, Peter Van Hoecke.”
The right person in the right place
Many of the unexpected lessons that Stijn learned from the project are to do with getting the right people in the right place during the project’s process. He calls it “Availability is not a competence.” "Gathering people based on their availability is not necessarily any help if they are not equipped with the right knowledge or position.” Moreover, he now realizes how important it is to clearly set out your objectives and scope in advance.
"We noticed that certain colleagues genuinely lack knowledge of the market. That was an unpleasant but important insight.”
In Project Valerie, it is important that several people from different departments work together to collectively gain insight into their clients. According to Stijn, while it was a laborious process, it helped them to clarify a number of situations and allowed them to make positive organizational changes. “We gained the necessary insights to decide on the nonviability of the project, but I think that we have mainly learned a lot internally. All of a sudden, we noticed that certain colleagues genuinely lack knowledge of the market. That was an unpleasant but important insight.”
"We have realized that we have to be engaged with innovation continuously, and not just at the product level.”
To get everyone in the right place, you sometimes have to address competent individuals outside your company and make sure everyone is in working in an area in which they can develop their full potential. At Van Hoecke, they recently embarked on a new project to install an Innovation Manager. “We possess a large market share, but, obviously, we want to discover new markets and develop new products. We maintain more innovation projects with Antwerp Management School and we have realized that we have to be engaged with innovation continuously, and not just at the product level.”