If there is one thing that we all see a lot of during the holidays, it is options.
It seems that every festive decision that we make around this time of year involves choosing among options. What color sweater should I buy for my family member? Should I bake, smoke, or fry a turkey? Do I want the Douglas Fir or the White Spruce? While all of the options can be overwhelming, it’s nice to have so many different offerings available.
As you plan for 2014, consider that adding new product offerings can have many positive effects on your business, including attracting new customers, converting first time customers into repeat customers, and increasing revenue.
The options table is a technique that you can use to create new product variations and offerings. Writers use it to generate new plot ideas and engineers use it to generate new design ideas. It is great for spurring incremental innovation based on something that already exists and can be described clearly.
The technique uses a table that allows for systematic substitution of one or more options to create new combinations, and potentially product offerings.
To build your product options table, first state the existing product clearly and identify its attributes that you will use in the table. Attributes might be dimensions, components, assemblies, weight, color, material, style, speed, etc. Which attributes of your product you choose to use in the table will shape how you are able to change that product, so think about them carefully.
A well-known example of a product and its attributes is a pizza.
My wife and I were making homemade pizzas the other night and I started thinking about the differences in our two pizzas. We preferred different toppings, and while I am a fan of whole-wheat dough, my wife of Italian descent finds whole-wheat pizza to be heresy. Noticing those two differences identified the first two attributes for a pizza options table: dough and toppings. Other attributes might include crust style, sauce, cheese, shape and cooking method.
An effective options table requires proper setup, so after you have chosen your attributes, put one attribute as the header of its own column in a table. If you chose four attributes, your table would have four columns. Five attributes would have five columns, and so on. The example pizza options table would have seven columns for the seven attributes previously identified. Quick tip: Seven attributes is about the most attributes that you want to have for a table. Too many more and the table might become unmanageable.
Next, think of as many options as possible for each attribute, listing each option in its own row in that attribute’s column. How many different types of dough are there? White, wheat and gluten-free are a few, but don’t stop at traditional options of an attribute. What else could form the crust of a pizza? Why not corn tortillas or a bed of noodles? Generate a list of options for every attribute in your table.
The fun begins after the options table is complete. Randomly select combinations by choosing one option from each attribute. Also experiment with choosing more than one option for an attribute (such as toppings) or no option at all (a sauce-less pizza, perhaps?).
Make new combinations of options to create new offerings. Many combinations will not end up as a new offering, but the number of available combinations is exponential, so keep creating until you find something useful!
For more visuals of how you could draw the example pizza option table, go to http://tinyurl.com/p599mth.
Jason Anderson is Director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center and he may be contacted at email@example.com. Find out more at coba.georgiasouthern.edu/sbdc/.