Patterns of Product-Process Innovation

Lionel Grealou Digital Innovation Talents 3 minutes

Product and process development capabilities are not mutually exclusive. It is often thought that product innovation fundamentally differs from – and is at odds with – process innovation; however, they actually rely on similar competencies. Some argue that the two are complementary and happen in sequence: such as process innovation typically follows product innovation (…). One thing for sure is that they both have significant impact on the way innovation is intrinsically handled by one or another organisation. 

The ability or an organisation to excel at delivering both product and process innovation depends on a set of critical patterns and related parameters such as:

  • The cultural context plays a critical role, especially in the ability of an organisation to foster ideation and reward experimentation.
  • Allowing for resource capacity is required outside of the normal or usual modus operandi to enable creative thinking and experimentation: this might imply using how non-project / non-billable time [in a controlled manner: e.g. time-bound, environment-bound, etc.] to enable un-budgeted / unplanned creative or research types of activities.
  • Delivery process flexibility must be available within a collaborative framework which can effectively enable product and / or process experimentation [which is not synonym to chaos or random free time]; while continuously embracing and implementing business changes in the most swift manner at various organisational levels.
  • New Product Introduction (NPI) capabilities must not be a burden to product innovation, but an enabler.
  • Mapping and enabling competency overlap [with regular gaps analysis and adjustments] is needed to allow for team effectiveness across multiple dimensions: disciplines, projects, technologies, ideas, etc.
  • Robust product lifecycle model must support the fact that specialised process innovation might be needed to enable product innovation, especially as early investments in specialised technologies can be foster further innovation [whereas risk-adverse organisations might be hesitant to introduce new products that make existing technologies obsolete].
  • Effective process technology can unlock product innovation and be true enablers to future production or commercialisation.

This raises a key question from a product and process perspective in terms of who owns innovation and how to avoid processes hindering innovation and ownership.

If one or more of the above parameters are not properly set according to context, there’s no doubt that processes can cause people involved in product development to see their contribution to the whole with blinkers on. The environment and culture in which they operate should not encourage them to operate in silos or throw their output and dependencies ‘over the fence‘ as soon as they have the opportunity to do so.

There is a need for an expanded view of the role of process development which proactively contribute to the ability to compete on the basis of product innovation.

This suggests that product and process design must be compatible from an early stage of development. Equally, manufacturing processes must ensure that product design are compatible with existing production process capabilities, or identify change requirements early enough; design-for-manufacturing principles and methods are usually well suited for these situations. This also links to ‘learning by doing‘ vs ‘learning before doing‘ principles and how cross-dimensional experience and knowledge are exploited on current and future projects.

Finally, some industries are more inclined to synchronous product-process innovation than other; especially those where both product and process technologies evolve rapidly and must be well synchronised due to the growing nature of technology parity, coupled with increasing product complexity, ongoing competitive drive for innovation, and shorter product lifecycle requirements.

The power of process innovation often lies in how it helps achieving accelerated time to market, rapid production ramp-up, enhanced customer acceptance of new products, and stronger proprietary position.

Surely, the ‘need for process‘ does not imply that there must be a process for everything, or that everyone must follow a single process to create their deliverable. Process automation and process-as-checklist are ‘hidden elements‘ of organisational operations which need to be implemented in context of one or more product-process innovation patterns as discussed above.

In a rapidly evolving context where everything is becoming more and more connected and smart, data complexity and product complexity combine into the requirement for simpler user processes – while the underlying process complexity is not to be exposed to the end users, but implemented into smart(er) and more innovative Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions.

Are these collaboration platforms intelligently architected to foster both product and process innovation?

Probably not yet… Hence the next question is perhaps: [when] will PLM editors be able to architect and develop such process-effective-driven innovation platforms?

… to be continued…

What are your thoughts?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 31 August 2016.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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