Know Thy Stakeholder: How Vested Interests Drive Medical Product Development

April 9, 2012

By Beth Werner, Sr. Research & Product Strategist

Before starting any innovation project one of the most important tasks is to understand who the stakeholders are. Understanding the needs, both met and unmet, of the people who will purchase, use, and advocate for your product or service is a critical first step in any development project.

On a typical Healthcare Delivery Systems project we can expect to conduct stakeholder interviews to as many as 50 different people with varying needs and points of view.

There are two types of stakeholders, internal and external.

Key Stakeholders (within a hospital setting):

Internal stakeholders are the people you work with or for who have any vested interest in the success or failure of your project. This list can include your project team, leadership team, and members of anydepartment involved in long term success of this project. This includes sales, marketing, engineering, design, accounting, or any number of other groups who will touch your project at some point. After a new project starts it is important to schedule time to talk to all of your internal stakeholders as soon as you can. Your goals should be fourfold.

1. Identify your cheerleaders and nay-sayers…both are important: Knowing who you can turn to internally is just as important as understanding why some people do not share your vision. Giving nay-sayers a chance to voice their opinion early and often will help you see both sides of your project.

2. Understand the perception your project has internally: Is this a “skunk works” project, or have you just been “super funded?” What are the expectations and metrics associated with your project? How will your success be measured? What are your stakeholders worried about? What are they excited about?

3. Uncover previous internal initiatives that can help you hit the ground running: Is there someone internally who has already worked on a project similar to yours? What were their biggest “ah-ha” moments? What resources can you leverage to move as fast as possible in your new project?

4. Gain buy-in: Taking the time to talk to your stakeholders early in your project will affirm that you care about your stakeholders opinions. It will also help your stakeholders feel like they have contributed to your project’s success. This will be critical as your project gains more visibility internally.

External stakeholders are the people outside of your company who will purchase, use, maintain, and dispose of your product or service. Let’s say you are designing an inhaler or glucose monitor for children. You may want to talk to the parent because they are responsible for the purchase, maintenance, replenishment, and disposal of the product and its non-durable components. However, you will also want to spend time understanding the needs of the child because he is the primary user. Understanding the needs of one but not the other can keep you from creating the best and most usable product possible.

Likewise, if you are creating a product or service that will be sold to hospitals it is critical to know who has a say in the purchase and use of your offering. Start with the users: Who is assembling the product? Using it? Sterilizing it? Managing its inventory? Then move to the purchasing team: Who presents new products to be purchased? Who will decide if there is a business case for your product internally? When you are speaking to external stakeholders you should focus on the following three questions:

1. What are the current unmet needs? What is it about your company’s current products or your competitor’s products that drive your stakeholders crazy? What are their challenges? What do they wish they could do?

2. How will the product and service be used? This may be obvious but understanding who interfaces with the product or service and why, can help you to develop critical design features. Additionally, understanding the true journey of the product or service will often times help you uncover even more stakeholders.

3. How is the purchase decision being made? When a mom sees your product category on the shelf of CVS or Target what is she thinking about? What jumps out at her? When a primary care physician is deciding to prescribe one medication over another what factors is she weighing? When a hospital board decides to approve or deny the purchase of new capital equipment, who is also at the table weighing this decision and what are they worried about?

In order to guarantee success, the beginning of any development project or architecting of a new system requires immediate deployment of what we at Ximedica call our ‘human-centered’ approach. This means the research team’s first initiative is to develop a deep understanding of the stakeholders from the outset so as to create products and systems that are as good to use as they are safe.