Make one to talk about: On excellence

NO ISSUE is more important to corporations today than innovation. And the key to that innovation just might be burning your planning manual . . . and getting started.

That's what innovation guru Michael Schrage said in a brilliant recent article in Design Management Journal called The Culture(s) of Prototyping.

'Effective prototyping,' he declared, 'may be the most valuable 'core competence' that an innovative organisation can hope to have.'

Mr Schrage observed that there were two types of organisations, 'spec-driven' and 'prototype-driven'. The former think a lot, write a lot of stuff down and eventually do something (usually elaborate). The latter do it, then think about it (once they have something concrete to think about).

Prototype mavens include 3M, perhaps the top big-firm innovator, and Sony, where design executive Nobuyuki Idei claims the average time from product concept to a rough working prototype is a shockingly brief one week.

'Prototypes are a way of life' in the most innovative firms, and 'an iterative culture defines the organisation, according to David Kelley of IDEO, the premier industrial designer. In such outfits, prototypes become 'the essential medium for information (transmission), interaction, integration and collaboration,' Mr Schrage adds.

At its roots, the cultural gulf between the quick prototypers and the rest is profound. Dan Droz of Carnegie Mellon University told Mr Schrage: 'The idea that you can 'play' your way to a new product is anathema to managers educated to believe that predictability and control are essential to new product development.'

I agree with Mr Schrage's conclusion that strong prototyping cultures produce strong products, but despite his artful prose, the use he makes is anecdotal. Enter Benham Tabrizi and Kathleen Eisenhardt of Stanford University's Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management. They recently focused their research on the speed of product development, examining 72 projects from 36 companies in Asia, Europe and the US. They unearthed two primary and fundamentally different approaches to hastening product development. In the first, the 'compression strategy', they said the key to fast pace 'is squeezing together a rationalised product development process. The underlying assumption is that since product development is complex, it is best to plan ahead to streamline the process and then compress the remaining steps together.'

Alternatively, for the 'experiential strategy', moving faster 'simply by accelerating an existing (albeit streamlined) process . . . is insufficient. Rather, the underlying assumption is that product development is an uncertain path through foggy and shifting markets and technologies. Thus the key . . . is rapidly building intuition and flexible options.'

The authors offer and then test 10 hypotheses. Six underpin the compression strategy. The first is: 'More time spent in planning is associated with faster product development time.' The other five predict that speed will flow from: greater supplier involvement; more designers using computer-aided design tools; overlapping steps (eg concurrent engineering and production); multifunctional teams and rewarding teams for meeting schedules.

The seventh through 10th hypotheses assess the experiential strategy. Take No 7: 'More design iterations are associated with faster development time.' The remainder predict that development time will be cut by performing more intermediate tests, decreasing the 'time between' milestones, and relying on a high-ranking leader to focus the team's effort.

Working with corporate product developers, the researchers came up with precise quantitative measures for each hypothesis. Their findings: the calculative compression strategy was trounced by the 'just do it' approach.

More specifically, planning actually slowed the overall process; more use of computer-aided design also gummed up the works. Overlapping steps, greater supplier involvement and rewards for meeting schedules made little difference one way or the other. Among the variables in the compression strategy, only the use of crossfunctional teams speeded things up significantly.

Of the experiential variables, more iteration, more tests and more frequent milestones all shortened product development time significantly. Even a strong leader was a matter of indifference.

One must be wary of measuring too precisely such an inherently messy phenomenon. Nonetheless, Tabrizi and Eisenhardt's pioneering work provides a careful and systematic test of the intuitively plausible - and monumentally important - ideas presented by the likes of Michael Schrage.

TPG Communications

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Austen Lloyd: Company Secretary

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: EAST ANGLIA - SENIOR SOLICITOR LEVEL ROLE** -...

Citifocus Ltd: German Speaking Client Specialist

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...

Citifocus Ltd: Performance & Risk Oversight

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game