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Fast, iterative “virtual research centers,” where hypotheses are tested and improved before they are scaled into new products, are edging out traditional R&D approaches.
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Bringing high-tech inventions built on patented technologies to market can be complicated and risky. The threat of added costs from patent infringement lawsuits has led technology companies to pool their talents — and patents — in technology consortia. Joining a tech consortium requires managers to weigh intellectual property value against the value of future collaborations and assess the consortium’s pros and cons for innovation, competition, and market creation.
What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology: a better strategy for managing digital disruption; enhancing product development with micro-factories; the untapped potential of supply chain digitization.
In an on-demand webinar, Wolfgang Gruel and Frank Piller detail new experiments in personal transportation. Gruel and Piller say that transportation customers are on the cusp of having seamless travel experiences that synchronize all transit options: schedules, traffic conditions, and personal preferences. But making this vision a reality requires knitting together previously independent systems — in part through smart data and the Internet of Things.
Companies that want to draw innovation ideas from social media need customized approaches. An approach that works on Facebook, for example, is different from one that works on LinkedIn. Companies also should emphasize the “social” by helping users create or enhance relationships. Companies that do this often benefit through people’s subsequent engagement with the company’s online innovation activities.
The Spring 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management features a Special Report on new product development. Articles include “Why Great New Products Fail,” “Finding the Right Role for Social Media in Innovation,” “Developing New Products in Emerging Markets,” “Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation,” and a look at the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things, in “Now That Your Products Can Talk, What Will They Tell You?”
Many innovative new products don’t succeed. One common reason: Companies don’t focus on understanding how customers make purchase decisions. But paying attention to how customers search for information about what to buy, and how they make guesses about details they can’t easily find, helps predict whether customers will embrace certain product innovations. Companies need to focus on innovations that customers will easily recognize or find ways to alert them to innovations they may not detect on their own.
Social media provides a game-changing opportunity to support new product development. But taking advantage of the opportunity requires more than just a Facebook presence with a loyal base of “friends.” To use social media for innovation, organizations need clear strategies and objectives. They also should look beyond social media used by the general public to lesser-recognized platforms, such as special user forums or expert blogs, for especially valuable user-generated feedback.
Products connected to the Internet of Things are providing unprecedented levels of information that can be used to improve both products and customer experience. For instance, a company does not have to wait until a customer calls with a complaint to know that a product connected to the Internet of Things is not working correctly. Instead, the product could already communicate the information, giving the company the ability to provide proactive service. Result: more loyal customers.
How can multinational companies turn ideas from their emerging-market subsidiaries into global products? A successful innovation developed by Cisco’s R&D unit in India offers practical insights into how to make that process work effectively. Key enablers in the Cisco case included well-developed R&D capabilities at a company center in Bangalore, a large market opportunity, and the support of executive champions. The process also demanded clarity about what product to develop, and how — including working on a shoestring budget.
Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.
The ability to innovate and rapidly respond to changes in the business environment is critical to competitiveness and success. Improvisation and experimentation combined with focus and flexibility are needed to identify new business opportunities and effectively execute projects. But while improvisation may seem to be spontaneous, managers can foster it through the deliberate development of certain processes and capabilities in an organization’s culture, team structure, and management practices.
Crowdfunding is changing how entrepreneurs bring new products to market. It has allowed thousands of innovating entrepreneurs to raise money, build brand awareness, and join a broader conversation with large numbers of potential backers — all while still in the product development process. But crowdfunding’s potential goes beyond financing and marketing. The people who back projects can also be important sources for product feedback and ideas.
Could science-based industries benefit from a financing model similar to one used to make Hollywood movies? “We propose that a form of governance centered on the project rather than the company may be a more efficient way to organize innovation in science-based industries,” write the authors. Their proposal addresses the fact that traditional venture capital “wasn’t designed to deal with the costs, risks, and slow payout of science-based industries.”
Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. has actively involved enthusiastic customers — known as “Mi Fans” — in both software and hardware development processes. Tech-savvy users test interfaces and products as volunteers, doing much of their communication on the Internet. Customer involvement in the product development life cycle has not only helped Xiaomi reduce R&D costs but also enabled the company to cultivate a sense of participation and pride among lead users.
Executives need the ability to quickly spot both new opportunities and hidden risks. Asking the right questions can broaden perspective and shake up existing assumptions. For instance, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, has a noted ability to spot unmet market needs. Musk has said that his forward-thinking style, exemplified in his vision of commercializing electric vehicles for the mass market, comes from “just trying really hard — the first order of business is to try. You must try until your brain hurts.”
All too often, companies from emerging and established economies talk past each other when discussing intellectual property. The result is that often fail to consider all their options for a productive collaboration. The authors detail five ways that companies can structure such IP partnerships, and say that it’s important for a company to choose the one that’s the best fit for the project: “The choice of IP business models is a strategic decision, not merely a legal matter.”
“New industries are characterized by an early period of confusion and uncertainty about use and meaning, which brings about a proliferation of category labels that attempt to describe the new products,” write Fernando F. Suarez and Stine Grodal, both of Boston University School of Management. Ideally, companies want to time their entry into a new industry to when a dominant category label emerges, but not every product can enter the market at the ideal time. Three strategies identified by Suarez and Grodal can help new products make the most of any timing.
Before introducing a new product to an emerging industry, companies should track the evolution of category labels in that industry. “Once you understand the nature of category labels and how they evolve, you can fairly easily track them,” write Fernando F. Suarez and Stine Grodal, both of Boston University School of Management. “But few companies do.”
How much choice do people really want? Asking people to make their own choices requires time and focus — there’s all those options to consider. Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein writes that default rules, which establish starting points for everything from rental car agreements to health insurance plans, can save people time and keep them from being overwhelmed by too much choice.
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