Blog Post by ELP Student Samarth Mendke (Design Science | Class of 2020) 

This summer, I have had an opportunity to work as a product management intern at Protect-MI Health, a non-profit corporation focusing on improving the health outcomes of society. The burgeoning spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic united a team of volunteers who collaborated to work on developing and promoting new methods for protecting health care workers and the public from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. 

I was glad to be a part of this collaborative effort that involved developing a novel device to provide personal protection against air-borne infections by providing a curtain of filtered air between the face mask and face shield.

The summer internship provided me with a firsthand entrepreneurial experience that taught me the importance of collaboration during any phase of product development. I would like to share some of my insights from the internship in this article that helped me bolster my interests in new product development and innovation.

The art of identifying and solving the right problem is better done by engaging with potential users early in the design process.

While this point is evident to everyone in the world of product development, yet it remains one of the 101 fundamentals to remind us before we delve into any problem-solving activity. The current pandemic made us witness the positive impact that crowdsourcing efforts can have in tackling some of the pressing problems. Shortages in personal protective equipment paved the way for crowdsourcing efforts, often led by the general public, who were also the end-users of the product. The users are one of the most critical stakeholders associated with product development, and involving them as collaborators is even more beneficial.

My internship provided me an opportunity to engage with early-adopters, and making them a part of the design process helped me in better defining the user-requirements and making informed design decisions that solved the pain-points of users.

Validation of a solution does not happen at the end of the design process; it occurs during the design process.

Getting it right the first time is especially crucial for hardware products because, unlike software, it is challenging to update changes to a newly developed hardware product. Embracing uncertainty during problem-solving could be better done by validating functional prototypes simultaneously with each significant design change to the product. Early validation assists the development team in ensuring that all the user requirements are fulfilled, resulting in a final product envisioned together with the users.

Conducting usability tests with users helped me to validate if the newly developed met the user requirements, but beyond just gaining feedback, following up with the early adopters with new revisions of the product further strengthened the final product offering to be made available in the market for a larger user segment.

Product growth strategy for increasing user adoption is detrimental in crossing the chasm from early adopters to the early majority.

Early-adopters play a significant role in product development. They are not just users but collaborators as well who, through their feedback, help in making better decisions for improving the newly developed product. However, the real test for any development work to successfully establish its place in the world happens when the product transitions from early adopters to the early majority. Since a one size fits all solution does not always work well, establishing a product growth strategy during product development for a single significant user segment and extending it to other identified segments is essential to increase the user adoption and set the product’s foot in the market.

To conclude, my internship helped me to gain hands-on experience in end-to-end product development. During summer, I have had an opportunity to engage with early-adopters of the product being developed and work on establishing the strategy for reaching out to identified user segments. While the new device has passed the ‘product test,’ I am confident that it would pass the ‘market test’ as well.