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INSTITUTE OF DESIGN
What Comes First?
How can innovation be applied to the innovation process itself to create products with greater return over a longer life cycle
Issue Date - 08/09/2011
 
Great concepts usually are also systemic in that, besides meeting the needs of multiple users, they have multiple ways of operating, embrace multiple component elements, draw on multiple functions, services, policies and organisational constructs, and generally perform as you might expect a system to perform. Systemic concepts are hard to copy simply because they are complex. And this translates to longer life and greater return in a highly competitive market.

Development for Today
So, first things first. A development process for today needs first to put serious effort into finding good concepts to develop. Back to our intrepid mountaineers – finding the right mountain is a prerequisite to winning the mountain climbing award. The two-step process provides a much more reliable means for establishing a concept worth developing. At the concept level, exploration can be broad and the costs of changing direction are minuscule in comparison with course changes later in the development process.

Development time need not be extended, either. Beginning with a concept carefully thought out can be a time saviour downstream. Schedule extensions not uncommonly are traceable to mistakes resulting from uncertainties in how an initial concept should be interpreted. Combining a conceptual planning phase with a detail designing phase shortened because it doesn’t have to reinterpret and redevelop the concept typically means no significant increase in development time. In practice, it may actually shorten the time because there are so many fewer opportunities for wrong turns.

Using Structured Planning, a process for concept development developed over a number of years at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), graduate student teams at IIT’s Institute of Design routinely produce innovative system concepts in fifteen weeks. My experience in industry is that the process takes longer –more like six months. The difference occurs because corporate planning team members usually are on loan from their home departments and have responsibilities there that continue to require their time.

Ultimately, the message is: when the competition is tough and competitors are numerous, a company may well have to obsolete its own products. To do that successfully, it will have to have concepts of reliably high quality ready predictably when they are needed. Reliability and predictability are not the hallmarks of seat-of-the-pants innovation. Getting the concepts right and on time requires focused concept development, free ranging planning teams, and a planning process tailored to the job.

Coordinated By : Karan Arora
 

          
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