The product life-cycle functions within an organisation can be thought of as operating on 3 working platforms. The model indicates that of the ideas on the ‘generate’ platform only about 1 in 10 gets prioritised for progressing into development. This reflects that many of the ideas we get or hear about, once we start thinking them through, do not yield sufficient potential to merit development.
An idea on the ‘generate’ platform will typically be worked on over 1 to 6 months, from discovery until we have studied and decided what to do with it. In reality, some ideas can reside for many years within an organisation, just waiting for circumstances to become right for them, but they are not continually active during such long time.
Of the ideas that progresses on to the ‘develop’ platform only about 3 in 5 makes it through. This is because sometimes priorities will change and a project will be put on hold, or scrapped. Other times, despite best efforts, we come up against a technical or regulatory difficulty that does that we cannot successfully qualify the product for release into the market.
Products that succeed in their qualification are flowing into the ‘maintain’ platform. Even here, some are never successfully commercialised or they turn out to only have a relatively short lifespan. Sometimes the market rejects a product – maybe because a competitor introduces something that is significantly better and cheaper; or maybe some unforeseen patent conflict bars us from selling the product in certain places. Lastly, there comes a point where we can no longer continue to revise or renew the product, where it eventually comes to its end-of-life and is phased-out.
If, hypothetically, we say that a product has a 10-year lifespan; and our organisation has 10 products in the market. Then we will need to top-up the ‘maintain’ platform with 1.3 new products every year. The added 0.3 relates to the proportion that we can expect being prematurely shelved or scrapped. In order to achieve the 1.3, we will have to, on average, start 2.2 development projects per year. And, we should harvest and evaluate at least 20 new product ideas every year – just for the business to stand still. If the business must grow, then a higher number is required, or an exceptionally high value product must be created.
Because of the way that discovered and undiscovered solutions co-exist in space, where the scrapped or obsolete products effectively return to the solution space, we can wrap-around the platform model into a doughnut shape. If we do not satisfy the proportional balance between the platforms quantities (20 -> 2.2 -> 1.3) then we have an unhealthy doughnut. We then risk being forced to either, or both, market outdated products or push through incomplete developments based on under-developed ideas – overall diminishing the organisation’s chance for success.
Doughnut analogy to sizing the working platform activities
Establishing and maintaining the right quantities balance between the working platforms is one thing. Another is to establish the right organisational modes within them.
Large organisations tend to have different teams of people, with different behavioural talents, within each the 3 working platforms. This can be good for maintaining constancy of purpose; but it often lacks integration and results in ineffective over-the-wall relationships between the working platforms, where learning is not optimised. The controlling nature and at times conflicting organisational modes within a large corporation can tend to stifle innovation.
In small organisations it is the same team of people that operates across all 3 working platforms. This, firstly, requires that people behave with some kind of split personality. People are generally not fluent in switching between the modes and tend to bring only a half-way attitude to either mode. Secondly, the ‘maintain’ platform, which feeds today’s customer and makes today’s money, will always shouts the loudest for attention. There will always be product maintenance tasks demanded for today, at the risk of perpetually putting off the new product development work until tomorrow. When there is only one team available, for all 3 platforms, it demands strongly disciplined resource planning.
It is not a coincident that small entrepreneurial start-up organisations tend to be more innovative than large controlling corporations; and that corporations are better at exploiting the longer term commercial value of the innovative product.