Does customer input play the same key role in every successful new‐product development (NPD) project? For incremental NPD projects, market information keeps the project team focused on customer wants and needs. Well‐documented methods exist for obtaining and using market information throughout the stages of an incremental NPD project. However, the role of market learning seems less apparent if the NPD project involves a really new product—that is, a radical innovation that creates a line of business that is new not only for the firm but also for the marketplace. In all likelihood, customers will not be able to describe their requirements for a product that opens up entirely new markets and applications. To provide insight into the role that market learning plays in NPD projects involving really new products, Gina Colarelli O'Connor describes findings from case studies of eight radical innovation projects. Participants in the study come from member companies of the Industrial Research Institute, a consortium of large company R&D managers. With a focus on exploring how market learning for radical innovations differs from that of incremental NPD projects, the case studies examine the following issues: the nature and the timing of market‐related inquiry; market learning methods and processes; and the scope of responsibility for market learning, and confidence in the results. Observations from the case studies suggest that the market‐related questions that are asked during a radical innovation project differ by stage of development, and they differ from the questions that project teams typically ask during an incremental NPD effort. For example, assessments of market potential, size, and growth were not at issue during the early stages of the projects in this study. Such issues came into play after the innovations were proven to work under controlled conditions and attention turned to finding applications for the technology. For several projects in the study, internal data and informal networks of people throughout relevant business units provide the means for learning about the hurdles the innovation faces and about markets that are unfamiliar to the development group. The projects in this study employ various techniques for reducing market uncertainty, including offering the product to the most familiar market and using a strategic ally who is familiar with the market to act as an intermediary between the project team and the marketplace.
The Journal of Product Innovation Management – Wiley
Published: Mar 1, 1998
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