Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Innovation in Product Development

Originally posted Feb 2008

Well first of all, what is innovation? Here are some of the classical definitions:

  • The act of introducing something new
  • The introduction of something new
  • A new idea, method or device
  • The successful exploitation of new ideas
  • The process of making improvements by introducing something new
When it comes to product development, the generation of "new ideas, methods or devices" may fit best. As stated in Wikipedia: Innovation most likely refers to both radical and incremental changes to products, processes or services.

So is innovation important? Whether it is radical or incremental, innovation is not only important to successful product development, but critical. Without it, you really have nothing.

The next big question is: How do you get it, or where does it come from? There are several critical factors to successful innovation.
  • Recognized as a critical success factor (CSF) to the business
  • Supporting management
  • Supporting processes
  • Creative people -
  • With the ability to interact and collaborate -
  • With access to lots of information and data -
  • Enabling them to make fast & good decisions
Strangely enough, it is not uncommon for innovation NOT to be one of the top business drivers within manufacturing companies. Over the years, things like time-to-market, design-for-manufacturing, low cost manufacturing, and quality have more often filled the top spots in the company business drivers. However in recent years we have seen a renewed interest with innovation in product development. Many companies now consider it a key to their success. If it is a key to their success, management most likely knows about it and supports in some manner. This is another subject entirely; how does management not only support it, but encourage it? Well, maybe we can cover that in another paper.

So how can processes support and encourage innovation? Innovation can be captured in a process. However, for most of us in the manufacturing world, we think of process as something that is serial and repeatable – kind of like manufacturing a product. We have even tried to capture this serial process and control it – again, like manufacturing a product. Unfortunately, this type of process control will only stifle innovation and perhaps kill it. Much has been documented about the process of innovation, but what is most important, is to understand what kind of innovation is important to your business and how it happens.

It certainly requires creative people. But what do these creative people do? Well, usually they interact with other creative people and lots of data and information. In the end though, all of this interaction and collaboration is no good unless it leads to the ability to make good and fast decisions. It is about creative people enabled and encouraged to make decisions. It sounds too simple, but it reality it is simple. Don’t over complicate it.

I recently wrote a paper about the relationship between Product Data Management (PDM) and innovation in product development. The paper was published at http://www.cadcamnet.com/ on 12/20/2007 and is titled "The Intrinsic Relationship Between Innovation and Engineering Product Data Management". Check it out when you get a chance. Let me know what you think. How important is data and information to innovation? Can PDM contribute to innovation? Are there systems out there that are enabling and supporting the chaotic nature of creativity and innovation?

Paul

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