Structured creativity for improved products
Industrial designer Lex van Dockum has overseen many product development processes in the course of his career. He worked in small engineering offices and various multinational companies before joining the PCV Group five years ago. Since then he has joined the management team and is particularly valued for his ability to take a “helicopter view” of a project. Where he had also become “fed-up” with the sluggish organisational structures of large companies, he now enjoys the freedom to improve or develop from scratch new products for clients, working with colleagues with very different specialisms. To do this the team from the PCV Group employs an approach it calls ‘structured creativity’. In this interview the experienced project manager describes what exactly this entails.
Lex, where do you feel your greatest strengths lie?
Over the years, I have gained the experience to evaluate a technical innovation or a new product very realistically. I think I can predict at a very early stage whether or not a new product or redesign will be successful on the market.
Can manufacturers not already do that themselves?
Manufacturers, i.e. our clients, are generally unbeatable when it comes to their products. They know their existing product lines and markets inside out. No one can disagree with that, but it is not enough. It can even be a disadvantage when it comes to new and continuing development of a product. In contrast, my aim is for my colleagues and me at the PCV Group to contribute fresh perspectives and experience gleaned from other projects. This allows us to find new solutions that provide added technical and financial value. We are inventors and engineers, who approach things with an open mind.
Why is that important?
Our clients do not generate new ideas and concepts that often. In many cases the PCV Group will have more expertise in terms of coming up with new ideas. We view our collaboration with clients as a creative process.
How exactly do you and your colleagues go about that?
In our line of work structure is a prerequisite for productive creativity. We must carefully address the client’s needs, starting in the bidding stage. We must fully understand them, their current products and need for improvement or development. This has as its base a perspective that is both technically and technologically oriented, yet incorporates different points of view, including a thorough user analysis. Here we work with well-established processes and a defined toolbox. We look at the product itself, analyse the market and put ourselves in the position of users and other stakeholders. Then there is an orientation phase where requirements and targets are set out and the scope for finding solutions defined. Following that we hold a kick-off with the client, bringing together a number of their employees and an interdisciplinary team from our side. Jointly we then take an even closer look and can fully identify critical issues. All of the aspects involved are highlighted in an extremely structured way.
Does the fact that the PCV Group works for very different clients help?
Yes, in my opinion, absolutely. Take a pump for example; the most basic of technologies. Much of the time we know and understand more ways of implementing it. One can often transfer and adapt insights from different industries and areas of application, which is exactly when things become creative and exciting.
Are there areas where this works particularly well?
The PCV Group has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the area of dosing and dispensing. The great thing is that this stems from a wide range of application areas. If we are talking about liquids for example, we can discuss coffee, milk or beer in just as much depth as laundry detergents or cleaning products. In the same way we also have a lot of experience with solids and bulk materials and their particular characteristics. There are many synergies and crossovers that help us to steer clients away from the path well-trodden.
How exactly does this advantage reveal itself in development projects?
There are endless variations and approaches. For example with cosmetics, but also with lubricants, one can think about how they can be refilled. Which containers make it easiest for the user? How can we make the refilling process function as clean as possible? Where is it refilled? How can one save on material? Or avoid waste? We can also ask whether there are already established solutions in the consumer goods or medical technology sector. Funnily enough it is often exactly this that leads to surprising ideas and truly innovative developments.
What in particular makes the PCV Group stand out in terms of creativity in the development process?
We cover a wide range of specialisms, but still know where and in which fields our particular strengths lie. Building on this foundation we can apply our tools and processes to bring a creative spark to many different areas, significantly improving the development process itself as well as the end results.