Achieving product-market fit is one of the most important milestones for any company. Reach it, and you will obtain the foundation for your success. Fail to find it, and you'll end up out of business. Your success as an entrepreneur, and a business, will boil down to successfully navigating the process of achieving product-market fit.  

So how can you accelerate the process for achieving product-market fit? The answer is by working with your customers from the beginning. By using a co-design process, you'll incorporate their feedback before you launch a product. Companies that drive innovation by listening to their customers will benefit from being more customer centric and will likely identify a market opportunity more quickly than companies that create products in isolation of their market. 

Here's a look at what co-design really is, and how other companies are using it to strengthen their relationships with customers while quickly getting a relevant, in-demand product to market.

What is co-design?

Co-design involves a partnership (formal or informal) between a company and its current or potential customers, in which the customers contribute to the design and development of new products for the company to bring to market.

Before customers became more involved as co-designers, their role was limited to purchasing the product and sharing feedback through a survey. In surveys, customers would note features or issues they would like addressed in future products or versions. However, the effectiveness of a survey depends on the way in which it is written and the questions asked. Surveys can be incomplete methods for obtaining feedback.

Once design-thinking was employed as a process for product development, companies saw an even greater reason to turn to customers for help with product development. Defined as a human-focused approach, design thinking is a way of looking at product design through the lens of user needs and determining how technology can address those needs. This is in contrast to previous approaches that involved designing a product and then going to market with a pitch to convince customers that they needed it.

Case studies of co-design success

The best way to understand the benefits of co-design is to look at specific examples of how companies are using it to bring products to market and improve the overall customer experience.

The commercialization strategy applied by executives at Myia Health, an intelligent health monitoring platform, is a prime example of how to include customers in the design and development process. Seeking to accelerate the extraordinarily long product development lead times inherent in healthcare, Myia engaged prospective customers, like physicians, nurses, hospital administrators and patients, in designing a platform with its engineers, developers and designers. The process of working together brought an entirely new level of insight, allowed the company to commercialize faster and set a new bar for patients and their caregivers.

DEWALT, a high-quality power tools manufacturer, has also saw measurable results from the co-design process. The company's insight community includes 10,000 end users. These customers provide ongoing feedback and ideas related to everything from how to design and package DEWALT's products to how to market them. By going directly to the professionals who use the tools, the company knows it can receive ideas about new products that are more likely to sell when they hit the market. It accelerated new product development and gives DEWALT a competitive advantage.

Additionally, customers have driven successful new products for a host of brands, including LEGO's Creator series and Anheuser-Busch Black Crown beer. Each brand has used a specific framework to include customers in its product design process.

How to incorporate co-design

The best place to start incorporating co-design in your product development processes is during the research phase. Begin expanding the scope and depth of research through more user interviews. These interviews can be conducted via phone, email, video conference or in-person sessions and often provide a greater understanding of customer needs and the features they seek.

The information you collect during these interviews can help you create personas that describe your customer segments in greater detail for framing product design. This information about customers can then be used to create an empathy map so the technical team behind product development leverages the human needs and emotions that go into product purchases as the basis for their design.

From there, your team -- and your customers -- may become more comfortable working together, based on the rapport they build during interviews. Gradually add them into more aspects of product design. This includes the ideation process, where customers can describe how they use a product, why they use it in a certain way and what makes them feel good or frustrated about the current products available. Their stories and scenarios can shape the product design process by highlighting what they need most, which indicates what they would willingly buy.

Again, as the product is designed, user testing becomes critical to the process of getting it to market faster. Invest a significant amount of time into this stage, with the help of customers to make tweaks to product design, the user experience or feature sets. Throughout the entire co-design process, it's important to ensure the greatest amount of diversity among the customers included so the needs of all segments and personas might be addressed.

Final Word

By entrusting a significant part of the product design process to your customers, you can get to market faster -- and more successfully. As a result, your own brand might be able to achieve success similar to the examples above. Consider how you can incorporate the co-design process and benefit from direct consumer feedback and collaboration.