Individual products are the offspring of product platforms that are enhanced over time. Product families and their successive platforms are themselves the applied result of a firm’s underlying core capabilities. In well-managed firms, such core capabilities tend to be of much longer duration and broader scope than single product families or individual products. The authors recommend a longer run focus on enhancing core capabilities, which includes identifying what they are and how they are applied and synthesized in new products.
1. D. Teece, “Profiting from Technological Innovation: Implications for Integration, Collaboration, Licensing, and Public Policy,” Research Policy 15 (1986): 285–306; and
C.K. Prahalad and G. Hamel, “The Core Competence of the Corporation,” Harvard Business Review, May–June 1990, pp. 79–91.
2. J.B. Quinn, T.L. Doorley, and P.C. Paquette, “Technology in Services: Rethinking Strategic Focus,” Sloan Management Review, Winter 1990, pp. 79–87.
3. Sanderson posited that “virtual designs” serve as the basis for a series of “product realizations” within particular generations of a product family. See:
S. Sanderson and V. Uzumeri, “Cost Models for Evaluating Virtual Design Strategies in Multicycle Product Families” (Troy, New York: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Center for Science and Technology Policy, 1991, and forthcoming in Journal of Engineering and Technology Management.
4. R. Henderson and K. Clark, “Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms,” Administrative Science Quarterly 35 (1990): 9–30.
5. Sanderson and Uzumeri (1991)
6. The four major innovations were miniature stereo headphones, miniature super flat motors, disk drive mechanisms, and small, rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries.
7. A. Lehnerd, “Revitalizing the Manufacture and Design of Mature Global Products,” Technology and Global Industry: Companies and Nations in the World Economy, ed. B.R. Guile and H. Brooks (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Engineering Press, 1987), pp. 49–64.
8. By simpy varying the length of the motor field, power from 60 to 650 watts could be achieved.
9. Wheelwright and Clark employ a similar framework in their new book on product development. See:
S.C Wheelwright and K.B. Clark, Revolutionizing Product Development (New York: Free Press, 1992).
10. Events and years to anchor data gathering and analysis over a span of time have been used to study and illustrate that successful R&D teams pursue a number of alternative technical solutions before arriving at final solutions. See:
T.J. Allen, Managing the Flow of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1977), pp. 13–26.
11. A fifth basic dimension, service, has been made part of our research with other companies.
12. For Family A, seven individuals participated in the study; for Family B, ten individuals; for Family C, nine.
13. We settled on these four dimensions of core capability based on the literature. We are also examining core capabilities for data gathering and analysis.
14. In our work with other firms, managers have chosen to identify specific manufacturing processes as core capabilities for data gathering and analysis.
15. The metric used to assess capability was as follows:
5. Best in class — industry leadership
4. Above par
3. On par
2. Below par
1. Worst in class
16. The underlying databases for these studies can be quite large. For example, over a thousand data points were gathered for the horizontal application family alone. We computed standard deviations to examine the variance in responses among participants for each core capability. These have been left out of this article to simplify the presentation.
17. In our work for other firms, participants have requested that we weight certain core capabilities more heavily than others to reflect their importance in the products studied.
18. Prahalad and Hamel (1990); and
Quinn, Doorley, and Paquette (1990).
19. The scale for performance was:
5. Among the most successful new business development efforts in the company
4. Above par
3. On par
2. Below par
1. Among the least successful new business development efforts in the company
20. In another study at the same company, we have gathered data on individual product performance for recent years. Grouping individual products into their respective families provided a cross-check on the validity of the executives’ relative assessments. Cross-checks for earlier years were not feasible because performance data for individual products were not recorded.
21. We are presently applying this method to a number of other product-developing firms in order to gather sufficient data to generalize the finding reported here with meaningful statistics.
22. The scale for market growth was:
5. >25% per year: rapid growth
4. >10% and <25%: fast growth
3. >5% and <10%: moderate growth
2. >=0% and <5%: slow growth
1. <0%: contracting market
23. The scale for level of competition was:
5. Many competitors, with several dominant firms
4. Many competitors, but no dominant firms
3. A few large competitors
2. A few small competitors
1. No competitors
24. The scale for effective product life cycle was:
5. Five or more years
4. Four years
3. Three years
2. Two years
1. One year
25. Sony spent approximately twenty years in basic research for the development of its video camera products. See:
M. Cusumano, Y. Mylonadis, and R. Rosenbloom, “Strategic Maneuvering and Mass-Market Dynamics: The Triumph of VHS over Beta” (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Sloan School of Management, International Center for Research on the Management of Technology, Working Paper 40–91, 1991).
26. W.J. Abernathy and J.M. Utterback, “Patterns of Innovation in Industry,” Technology Review 80 (1978): 40–47;
R.N. Foster, “Timing Technological Transitions,” Technology in the Modern Corporation, ed. M. Horwitch (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986);
W.J. Abernathy and K.B. Clark, “Innovation: Mapping the Winds of Creative Destruction,” Research Policy 14 (1985): 3–22; and
M. Tushman and P. Anderson, “Technological Discontinuities and Organizational Environments,” Administrative Science Quarterly 31 (1986): 439–465.
27. J.M. Utterback, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, forthcoming).
28. M.H. Meyer and E.B. Roberts, “Focusing Product Technology for Corporate Growth,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1988, pp. 7–16; and
Quinn, Doorley, and Paquette (1990).
29. C. Freeman, The Economics of Industrial Innovation (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1986);
R.G. Cooper, Winning at New Products (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1986); and
M.A. Maidique and B.J. Zirger, “The New Product Learning Cycle,” Research Policy 14 (1985): 299–314.
30. J.M. Utterback, “Innovation and Industrial Evolution in Manufacturing Industries,” Technology and Global Industry: Companies and Nations in the World Economy, ed. B.R. Guile and H. Brooks (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Engineering Press, 1987), pp. 16–48; and
E.B. Roberts and M.H. Meyer, “New Products and Corporate Strategy,” Engineering Management Review 19 (1991): 4–18.
The authors wish to thank the Center for Innovation Management Studies at Lehigh University and MIT’s Leaders for Manufacturing Program and International Center for Research on the Management of Technology for their support of the research reported in this article.