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Investigation Goes Well Beyond Just Asking and Observing

April 20, 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

Over the years we in research seem to have abandoned one of the main activities of research. That is, personal involvement in the use of the products. I believe that the person responsible for assessing the performance of a product has an obligation to, whenever possible, use the product. I am not advocating that we personally use an artificial heart, but I am advocating product use whenever reasonably possible.

As an example, I'd like to describe two of the more unusual activities in which I was involved.

The first deals with my work in disposable operating room supplies. Buckeye Cellulose Corp., a P&G subsidiary, was considering entering the OR drape and gown market. One of my first tests involved our OB pack and the major competitor's pack. One of the main features in the study involved the UB (Under Buttocks) drape. The competitor's drape consisted of an absorbent panel over a plastic sheet. In this execution, the fluids tend to creep down into the kick bucket However, some of the fluids remain on the absorbent panel, especially the more dense fluids causing minor problems.

The Buckeye concept was designed to remove all the fluids from the patient area. This was achieved with an embossed plastic sheet. The embossing slowed down the flow of the fluids and eliminated splashing, while delivering all the fluids into the kick bucket.

The choice among the surgeons and nurses were split approximately equally with a slight advantage for the Buckeye drape. The slight choice would have been the final result had it not been for our participation in the duties of the OB staff which uncovered a potentially serious negative. Uncorrected, it would have been a deal buster.

We ultimately learned that the use of the UB drape continues after the completion of the procedure. Following delivery, the UB drape is used to bundle up the refuse which includes fluids. Have you ever tried to carry fluids in a rectangular sheet of plastic? With the Buckeye drape, I learned that extreme care must be given to this task or you end up with bloody shoes. The absorbent panel on the competitor's drape handled the fluids without spilling. Personal experience can have a profound effect on how you see the performance of a product as it did in this research.

The second example involved the development of disposable underwear for incontinence. There were four of us in the beginning of product development that wore the underwear. Yes, we did soil them while wearing them. Yes, we learned a lot from the experience. We learned a lot about comfort, fit, leakage, product feel and a host of attributes through our personal experience.

I don't know how much experience like this played in the ultimate success of the individuals involved, but of the four, one went on to become a CEO of a large international company while two others are currently VPs of large companies. And I retired. Taking the time and making the effort to walk around the project and experience it from different points of view can have a profound effect on the success of a project and on your career.

I often wonder how many managers today approach their research with the dedication of those mentioned above. Bob, Danny, and Karen, I do miss the old days and the degree in which we immersed ourselves into our research. Thanks for all the fun times.

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