InnovationQ: What’s Wrong with Product Development
InnovationQ: What’s Wrong with Product Development
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ByMike Wolff

IMR probes the weak spots in new-product development with Robert G. Cooper, Emeritus Professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, ISBM Distinguished Research Fellow at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business Administration, and President of the Product Development Institute,;

Innovation Management Report’s Editor Michael F. Wolff began the interview by asking:

Bob, you’ve been studying new-product development for more than 30 years. In 1986, you found only a minority of 122 Canadian industrial firms with products rated “extremely successful.” And no one group consistently performed strongly on the principal measures of performance simultaneously. 

Jumping ahead to 2010, you wrote that many companies lack clearly articulated and well-communicated product innovation goals (Research-Technology Management, May-June 2010,pp. 33-40). So it strikes me that we’ve made little progress in 30 years, and the obvious question is why do you think this is, given all the research that’s been published? What are company managements missing? 

In 2003 and 2011, the American Productivity and Quality Center conducted large studies of hundreds of U.S. participating members of the APQC. It was shocking how few companies actually had a well-defined, well-communicated, well-articulated product innovation strategy for their business.

True, some companies had innovation goals and objectives clearly outlined.  But goals and objectives don’t make a strategy. They’re only what we hope to achieve but not how we plan to achieve it. Other companies had a long list of development projects they intended to undertake, but again, that’s not a strategy, that’s just a bunch of projects they hope to do, outlined perhaps in the form of a product roadmap. So innovation strategy is missing!

I suspect one reason people haven’t moved forward is that senior management in North America has not been sufficiently engaged in the strategy development process for innovation. We saw some instances where senior management was fully engaged, and would ask them questions such as, “Why are you so engaged; it sounds like an awful lot of work?”

And I remember one senior executive saying, “Well, it’s only the future of my business, so of course I have to be engaged.” I thought that was very appropriate. But the majority of senior folks almost subcontract product innovation to other people in the company. They feel it’s not their job to lead the charge here. And nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, the word strategy means the “art of the general” in ancient Greek. I say to these senior folks, “You are the generals. It’s your job to lead here. And frankly, you’re abrogating your responsibility by not leading the charge.” Now, there are some notable exceptions, and I don’t mean to tar everyone with the same brush.

Any you care to mention?

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