One key to the success of Intel is that the company works very hard to learn what consumers want in a computer – even though Intel doesn’t make computers.
That was clear from a presentation I heard at the recent Customer Needs Discovery & Innovation Congress, put together by the Management Roundtable.
Herman D’Hooge of Intel, who holds the title of Innovation Strategist (Wouldn’t you love having a title like that?) described what he called Intel’s user-centered approach to developing products.
In broad strokes, D’Hooge talked first about “looking out” toward the user to find needs and problems. The next step is translating the user needs into compelling user experiences. Finally comes “looking in” toward implementation and solving technical problems.
In concept, being user-focused is a good approach for almost any company. And I was pleased to hear D’Hooge say, “this is as much about process as it is about culture.”
However, what I found particularly fascinating is that the user, in this case, is not Intel’s customer. Its customers are the computer manufacturers who buy Intel’s silicon chips.
But as D’Hooge noted, customer needs “actually do place requirements on what goes inside your computer.” Even more striking is the fact that Intel devotes itself to consumer research, rather than leaving it to the manufacturers who design and build the computers.
This is an important lean issue. Lean is all about providing value to the customer. And even though the user here is not the customer, what the user wants drives development for both Intel and its customer. Therefore, the value sought by the customer – the computer manufacturer – has a lot to do with what constitutes value for the consumer.
I don’t know whether Intel is actually a lean company, in the sense of being dedicated to the principles and strategies of lean. But if they aren’t, they’ve got a good foundation for becoming one.
One example D’Hooge described had to do with computers developed for an Internet café in
Research into the behavior of these individuals led to new features on the computers used there. One was the ability to store music on the machine, so the user could listen while playing. Another was a button that called up a menu on a small, separate screen, to be used for ordering food. This made it possible to place the order without forcing the user to abandon his game.
(D’Hooge described this example briefly, and it wasn’t clear to me who actually manufactured the computer or exactly what modifications might have been made to Intel chips as a result of the research. However, Intel was clearly involved.)
Most importantly, Intel understands that this kind of strategy goes to the very core of a company. D’Hooge talked about the need for establishing “a systemic user-centered capability and approach,” which he described as a multi-year process that involves “changing the DNA” of a business.
It does indeed.