Three Ways to Achieve Customer-Focused Innovation


Defining innovation should be easy, unfortunately, it’s not. Is it a process? Is it the end game? Is it merely a new way of doing an existing thing or is it only something completely different? Is collaboration a tool that allows innovation to take place or is collaboration itself the innovation? At least we can agree on this - manufacturing innovation includes the introduction of new processes and practices, new technology and equipment and/or new materials to a company. Innovation is an integral part of the continued successes of Michigan's manufacturing sector. Innovation is necessary because of the competitive edge that it brings and it’s essential to develop, make and market new products and services that meet customer needs at a pace faster than the competition, especially in today’s economic environment.

According to the Next Generation Manufacturing Survey, approximately 43% of manufacturers self-report that they are near or at world-class customer-focused innovation. Merely 5% of manufacturers report no progress toward world-class status. The implication, if you aren’t at least moving in this direction, you are falling behind the competition.

There are three elements necessary to achieve world-class customer-focused innovation: strategy, talent / talent-development and capable business systems and equipment:

  • Strategy – 72 percent of manufacturing companies have a company-specific strategy, which guides innovation. Only seven percent of firms have no innovation strategy in place.
  • Talent / development programs – Talent and development programs drive customer-focused innovation into the next generation. Talent development is also important to close the skills gap that manufacturers are experiencing. The majority of manufacturers have either adequate talent or a talent development program. Only 17 percent of manufacturing companies do not have either talent or a development program. This is relevant for areas beyond innovation, including succession planning and business sustainability.
  • Business systems and equipment – A majority of manufacturers host systems and equipment, which meet current requirements. 18 percent report that they have state-of-the-art tools, while an equal 18 percent have inadequate systems and equipment or none at all.
Manufacturers that are near or at world-class customer-focused innovation emphasize communication and collaboration to address the requirements of their customers. Manufacturers cite some best practices to achieve world-class status: 
  •  Active study of customer requirements
  • Business focused Research & Development
  • No fear of failure
  • Fully integrated services, from development through distribution
  • Routine innovation training
  • Flat organizational structure which allows for ease of communication between sales and customer service – leading to employee empowerment.
Leadership is the cornerstone of any successful change effort and implementing a successful innovation initiative at your manufacturing facility is no different. Research shows that without leadership, improvement efforts are not sustainable and have a high failure rate. MMTC offers a 3 Day Executive Level hands-on workshop focused on leading change. Led by experienced MMTC team members, the workshop focuses on organizational performance and creating a culture of improvement and innovation.

In addition, MMTC has just been named in a partnership with the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan, the Detroit regional Chamber, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences to connect local manufacturers with the capability and capacity to support low-volume, custom projects with new global contracts, including R & D and other intellectual property developed in Michigan. The innovation Center, slated to open in early 2013, will allow manufacturers easy access to digital modeling and other simulation tools to optimize speed, reliability and efficiency.

For more information about MMTC's Leadership-in-Action, the innovation center pilot or other programs, contact us at 888-414-6682 or via email at

Categories: Innovation