Launch and Learn

Launch and Learn
Tim Laseter and Ron Kerber
Strategy+Business, Spring 2008

Despite the critical importance of innovation, many companies lack the ability to develop new products and services consistently.

What’s holding them back?  The root of most business innovation problems is a lack of clear linkages among three distinct “innovation portfolios”:

  1. The current portfolio of products or services.
  2. The portfolio of advanced technology capabilities.
  3. The portfolio of product creation projects.

In “Launch and Learn,” the authors describe how companies can integrate the three innovation portfolios.

Tim Laseter is a former vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton and currently holds visiting faculty appointments at the London Business School and other business schools.  Ron Kerber has held executive positions in product development and technology management at the Whirlpool Corporation and McDonnell Douglas.

As they explain, the most effective companies use three steps to improve the linkages among the portfolios.

  • First, they link advanced technology and product development efforts with technology road maps and advanced technology demonstrators.
  • Second, they employ a product architecture that offers variety to the end customer, but at an affordable cost to the company.
  • Third, they use annual product reviews to engage executives in a detailed analysis of all three portfolios to secure the linkages.

Let’s start with advanced technology demonstrators, or ATDs.  ATDs compel researchers to validate new technologies in a context similar to that in which customers will actually use them.

For example, a voice-activated remote control for home electronics would be developed independently and validated as an ATD.  A company might initially build an ATD to show how the device would work in a simple bedside clock-radio with limited functions.  More advanced versions would compensate for the noisier environment of a living room and incorporate the wider range of functions of a DVD player.

ATDs logically link to specific product creation projects, but their development must remain separate.  Businesses lose millions of dollars trying to invent and develop a product simultaneously.  ATDs offer a flexible way to avoid this; they link research projects with product creation projects without following the same timeline.

Of course, technology demonstrators are not enough to produce improved returns.  New te...