A key part of any stop on the year-long Drive for Innovation was interacting with engineers either examining our Chevy Volt, or driving it around. Everyone has a design suggestion.
Analog Devices took it to the next level, in the Fall of 2011, by hosting an outdoor reception during which employees put Sticky-note design suggestions all over the electric vehicle (EV).
That sparked an idea: How would our engineering audience design an EV for the future?
Serendipitously, Mark Skillings, a former longtime marketing executive with ADI, suggested over dinner that we focus-group it.
ADI, as it turns out, once used a decision-making, consensus-building process called the KJ Method, after its inventor, Jiro Kawakita. Skillings, now founder and president of the TMC Group, swore by it, and noted that his product development teams used the K-J and other voice-of-the-customer (VOC) techniques in the new product development process.
So we convened a focus group of eight engineers late last year (one-way glass and the whole shootin' match), which Skillings led deftly.
In the space of two hours, we'd identified and built consensus around the right ways to focus next-generation vehicle design.
Here's what happened:
We started by trying to solve the problem:
"What are the factors limiting the acceptance of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the US?"
The process, in which there are no wrong or right answers, allows the participant to write any number of answers to the question and place them on a whiteboard. Our eight lucky engineers, one by one, and multiple times, jotted down thoughts and stuck them, more or less randomly, on the board. They wrote several dozen answers, such as:
- Charging time
- Range low
- Price high
- Repair cost
- Charger accessible
Then, we asked our engineers to group the stickies silently -- in any manner that they believed two or more went together. (Silence is the key, because it allows everyone to consider how they would group them without being badgered). Then, a round of conversation was followed by some additional labeling -- all led by the engineers. Lastly, there was a prioritization vote.
Range anxiety was the No. 1 factor limiting acceptance, followed closely by "Real Cost/Value."
"Accessible charging," "Design Attraction," "Reliability," "Unfamiliarity," and "Capacity/Size" were far down the list.
Next step was question No. 2:
"When thinking of Electric Vehicles (EVs), what specific design suggestions would you as an engineer, prospective driver, or both suggest to the GM team?"
Here we got far more individual answers, more than 75 stuck up on the board. They included:
-Low center of gravity
-Voice controlled operations
-More legroom in back
-Same range as my gas car
-Speed control by traffic sensing
-More safety sensors
These suggestions were grouped into categories, such as ergonomics, cost, automation, energy storage, feel/performance, and package options.
Perhaps not surprising, energy storage was by far (3:1) the most important design consideration, according to our engineering group. Cost was a distant second, followed closely by automation.
What impressed me the most was the fact that the top two priorities in answer to question No. 2 were in exact alignment with the top two identified problems limiting EV acceptance.
Now, the next step is see how these track with what Andy Farah, the chief Volt engineer, and his team at GM are thinking about for their vehicle's future.
How do you think the future EVs should be designed? Tell us below.
Editor's note: This blog was originally posted to the Drive For Innovation website.