How Creative Workshops Drive Successful Product Development

by Christian Suurmeijer / September 19, 2019

You jotted down a great idea for your new product or device on the back of a napkin. Now what? 

In the middle of dinner or during a long international flight, you solved a problem, extended the life of a product, or dreamed up something (potentially) incredible. But that napkin’s not going to make your concept come to life all by itself.

That’s when a Creative Workshop session, facilitated by Benchmark, can provide a big assist—and a leap over a lot of time and money expenditures.

It’s the first step to realizing if your product is viable and if it’s possible to reduce manufacturing costs while maintaining the highest quality assurance and the shortest time to market.

Beyond Design Thinking to Next-Level Solutions

Just imagine: In only two days, your team and a range of subject matter experts, along with an experienced facilitator, can determine feasibility, understand costs, quickly develop prototypes and kick off a project in the most efficient way possible—with actionable outcomes.

Creative-Workshop-04You may be familiar with, or have even participated in, some Post-it®-note-ideation process. With big poster sheets and stickies all over a whiteboard or walls, it’s a popular way for teams to brainstorm ideas and then organize input for consensus and a deeper understanding of a challenge or solution.

That’s what our Creative Workshops might look like to outsiders. It may seem like another collaborative design thinking activity, prolific among Silicon Valley’s startups and mega-tech companies. But our workshops take design thinking to the next level.

Balancing value and cost considerations to create and enable real business cases, we’ve developed a methodology that’s consistently tested and refined among a growing number of customers. In these workshops, even the most leading-edge product innovations end up with all the critical aspects and cost-efficiencies baked in.

Serious Play—Lively and Extremely Productive

While business considerations are always top-of-mind, our workshop facilitators emphasize the importance of creating the right atmosphere to enable the right combination of focus and creativity. It’s a structured but unrestricted process. Focused but open to blue-sky ideas. Of course, a Benchmark facilitator is always there to help straighten out the naturally nonlinear creative process so participants can uncover tangible results.

“We call it serious play,” says my colleague, Paul Keijser, a medical business development executive who’s based here in Almelo, NL. “Our workshops are both lively and extremely productive,” he adds.

We’ve been facilitating these types of sessions throughout Europe and the U.S. with impressive results. They’re an excellent way for us to strategically engage with existing—and even prospective—customers at key inflection points in product design and development.

“Within a very short period, we can usually reach the ‘go/no go’ stage and save clients a lot of time and money,” notes Keijser. “The effect is so much bigger than the sum of all the elements.”

He’s right. The success of your product can be increased exponentially through this style of intensive brainstorming. With the right people, environment, process, and background information on hand, a Creative Workshop results in real solutions for real product development and production challenges.


4 Workshops Span the Complete Product Life Cycle

To meet your organization’s challenge anywhere in the product lifecycle—from new idea to end of life—we offer four types of Creative Workshop sessions.

1. Ideation: Innovating Ideas and Product Roadmapping

Is your idea, sketched out on the back of that napkin, even feasible? Does the market need it? How much will it cost to produce? An Ideation Workshop helps you and your team better understand what’s required to make the concept a reality. In this session, both the technical and business sides of the house come together with other subject matter experts, such as doctors, end-users, or technical experts, along with engineers, to work through concepting.Creative-Workshop-03

2. Development: Acceleration and Cost Reduction

Perhaps you’ve already ideated extensively and have created the perfect prototype. You know what to make, but you don’t know if you’re using the right technology. You also don’t know if your proposed product can be manufactured at scale. Your team needs the kind of development experience and design for excellence (DFX) input offered in our Development Workshop.

Similarly, it might be that your product design is ready, but the Bill of Material (BOM) is far too high. In that case, your team needs fresh input, discovered during the workshop process, to determine how to reduce the BOM cost and make your business case profitable.Creative-Workshop-02

A Development Workshop can reduce development and production costs and lead time considerably. Successful outcomes generally smooth the path to budget approvals. 

3. Smart Industrialization: Rethinking and Re-engineering for Manufacturing

Now, maybe your product is ready for launch. Or perhaps it’s already launched and selling so well that you need to ramp up production and distribution or make it more cost-effective for widespread use. Your team might also need to rethink automation, consider cost-cutting measures, or modernize processes like moving from mechanically machined parts to molded parts.

Smart industrialization, established in a two-day Industrial Workshop, helps you reach the affirmative in each of these questions:

  • Is the production line set appropriately?
  • How can we improve our manufacturing strategy and cost?
  • Do we have a test strategy to avoid cost overruns?
  • Is documentation up to date?
  • Do we need full functionality?
  • Is the supply chain prepared?
  • Are you prepared to transfer to a Lean Capacity Rate (LCR)?

Recently, one of our customers asked us to facilitate an Industrial Workshop to re-engineer an expensive medical device previously used only in hospitals. The market was ripe for a more accessible, home-use device. But the customer needed an external company, like Benchmark, to break through their own design biases; avoid legacy ideas, and work with open minds toward realizing the desired goal.

With the customer’s in-house engineers innovating alongside Benchmark engineers in an intensive, creative Industrial Workshop, the result was impressive. The cost to produce the device was cut by 70%, and that company now produces more than 7,000 units per month.

4. Product Revitalization: Defeating Obsolescence

A Production Workshop can even help breathe new life into a mature product nearing the end of its lifecycle. Rather than face obsolescence, it could be the foundation for a next-generation product. It’s possible that current technology may be applied to refresh the product, thereby solving obsolescence, reducing cost, size, and weight, and upgrading the look and feel, too. New features and accessories might even be added to the existing product to add value and access to new markets.

In the Production Workshop, participants thoroughly consider options for cost reduction, quality improvement, new features, and value-stream mapping. Attendees often walk away with a means to stall a product’s decline and introduce a second life.

Start with the End in Mind

Even though the underlying theme in each of these four directed workshops is to remain open to all ideas, certain parameters are set in a pre-workshop scoping meeting. The focus is on the challenge, not the process.

These workshops embrace a creative process that can go in all directions. Our expertise, paired with the fact that we’re coming from outside the business, helps us keep the customer’s goal always front-and-center.

As my friend, ‘Paul K,’ says: “It’s the perfect combination of structure and chaos.”

Kick Off Your Next Project with Benchmark

Creative Workshop sessions are a great means for kicking off a product design or development project in other application areas while ensuring economy of time, cost, and effort. Contact us today for more information on our Creative Workshops or schedule your initial workshop-scoping meeting.

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about the author

Christian Suurmeijer

As a senior design engineer and technical consultant on ID/UX/MR, Christian Suurmeijer has a long track record of designing complex professional devices. He uses his strength of visualization and prototyping to serve international clients in the high tech medical and industrial markets. At Benchmark, he was the first to introduce and develop the creative workshop as a way to help customers overcome challenges throughout the product life cycle. Together with cross-functional teams, he is always trying to look beyond, while balancing technology, cost and usability.

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