I won’t bore you with a blow by blow recap of the interviews we had with aircraft maintenance engineers, designers and installers. Needless to say in almost every case we were greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and curiosity, since they’d never met anyone from Accipiter except the sales team and an occasional maintenance engineer. Our enthusiasm for their work and close observation of the way they interacted with our products actually seemed to encourage them to talk about the products – what they liked, what they hated (and it turned out they hated several very specific things) and what they wished we would do to improve our products.
In the end we had over forty hours of video and the collected notes from twelve meetings to decipher. I reviewed my notes in my office early on the Friday after our last meeting, and popped the video from one of our first meetings in my PC. The videography was jumpy and certainly wouldn’t win an Oscar, but had an earnestness that demonstrated that most of the people we were interviewing had little to gain from anything other than the truth.
In the first video I watched as the folks from Red Eye facilitated our discussion with Tomaz and his crew. Watching his team install landing gear on a plane was fascinating. Here were three people working on some of the most advanced machinery in the world, installing critical landing gear on an aircraft, yet they were using tools of their own design and working in the most contorted positions and lifting heavy gear with their hands into exceptionally awkward positions. Clearly, our landing gear, and that of our competitors, was designed to meet the specifications of the aircraft manufacturers, but just as clearly no one had ever really focused on the work and needs of the maintenance engineers. It was a wonder watching these guys that they didn’t simply throw the gear down in frustration. I guess years of hard work had educated them that the gear was much more important than their comfort or safety. What’s more, they didn’t really complain about the difficult installation. Perhaps they had simply come to accept that installing landing gear was a difficult, dangerous job, but even to my untrained eye I felt there were tools and procedures we could create to simplify the work, or perhaps a redesign to make maintenance more simple.
Here was possibly one of the innovation consultant’s holy grails – an important, valuable unmet or unspoken need. Given the importance and frequency of maintenance, we could add a lot of value by simplifying the work these maintenance guys did. This could be a simple innovation with a big impact. We’d need to watch for more maintenance issues in other videos.
After about two hours of cinema verite, I had taken six pages of notes and identified at least three areas of potential need for further investigation. The maintenance issue seemed exceptionally valuable, but I wanted to check my assumptions with someone who would know just how important that need might be, so I called Susan.
“Susan, Sam Marlow.”
“Long time no see.”
“Well, after two weeks on the road meeting aircraft mechanics, I decided to give you a few days to catch up on your other priorities.”
“I’ve been watching some of the video Red Eye supplied from our meetings and I’ve noticed a couple of things I think could be interesting and valuable. Have you had a chance to look at any of the video or consider what we heard in our meetings?”
“I’m just digging out from being away from my desk for two weeks. I really haven’t had the time but I was planning to take some of the video home over the weekend. Is it tough to watch?”
“Well, we won’t win any Oscars but the footage is good, and I think there are some real needs to be uncovered in the video. I won’t spoil any surprises for you, but you should definitely look over some of the material as soon as possible. Do you know if Gregg or Sally or James has had a chance to review the footage?”
“I don’t know, but I doubt they have. Perhaps we should schedule a meeting early next week to reset expectations about watching the material and what we want them to do when they view it.”
“OK”. I was a bit deflated. I had hoped everyone would plunge in with the same enthusiasm as me, but innovation is my full-time job and passion. For these guys, it was one priority out of many that demanded their time.
“We’ll get to it” Susan said, with just an edge to her voice. “Gregg and his team are under a lot of pressure to produce results this quarter, and they’ve been traveling with us, so I’m sure they needed to put the current quarter’s activities on the front burner for a while.”
“Yeah, I know. I just love this work and am very enthusiastic about what we’ve learned. Let’s get that meeting scheduled and I’ll try to have a synopsis of some of my findings from the video I’ve watched, to simplify the work for the rest of the team.”
“Sounds great. I’ll get something on the calendar for next week with Gregg, and we’ll plan our next steps.”
“Thanks. Have a great weekend.”
I was planning on a great one.
By Jeffrey Phillips