By changing its product development strategies to match more closely the wants and needs of the marketplace, a firm can transform product development into a formidable competitive weapon. Just as formidible, however, is the effort that this transformation requires. Established organizational structures and corporate politics present significant barriers to acheiving fundamental changes in product development strategy.

Christer Karlsson and Pär Åhlstrom present a case study of one firm’s efforts to build capabilities for creating new products quickly and efficiently. Rather than focus on the content of the firm’s product development strategies, however, they emphasize the process this electromechanical manufacturing firm used for changing its product development strategy. Drawing on their experiences as clinical researchers in this effort, they describe key lessons learned during the change process, and they offer suggestions for managing the process of changing product development strategy.

They highlight five key lessons learned during the strategy development process. First, rather than viewing product development as a line function, a firm should view product development as a key executive area with responsibility for the company’s competitive position. Second, market issues are the responsibility, not only of marketing, but also of product development and production. Third, to avoid corporate myopia, management control systems must consider not only time and money, but also acheivement of goals. Fourth, strategic planning flows more smoothly if the participants start by mapping the firm’s past and present position before attempting to define the desired position. Finally, formulation of a product development strategy is the responsibility of a multifunctional team of executives.

Managers should keep a few rules in mind when devising a process for formulating a product development strategy. First, adopt a learning strategy throughout the change process. Formulation of a product development strategy involves many abstract concepts, and a successful strategy requires cross-functional consensus. Second, combine tangible, direct activities with long-term strategic aims. Third, avoid the pitfall of best practice. The form that the product development organization takes depends, to a great extent, on the type of development work. Finally, before discussing future strategies, the strategy formulation process should focus on analyzing the current situation.

Karlsson, Christer and Åhlström, Pär (1997), “Perspectives: Changing Product Development Strategy: A Managerial Challenge”, Journal of Product Innovation Management, Vol. 14, No. 6, pp. 473-484.

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