Convergence: The Key to Successful InnovationBy Faisal Hoque | Posted 2008-04-21 Email Print
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DeWalt proves that focusing on customer needs and experience, and aligning organizations toward meeting those needs, will lead to greater business advances.
Call them “McMansions” or “particle-board palaces,” the massive homes sprouting up across the suburban landscape presented a big problem for the carpenters who built them. The designs for these super-sized dwellings called for molding larger than the standard 10-inch miter saws could handle. Construction workers would have to cut through half the molding, pass the 16-foot piece out the window, turn it and pull it back in. It was a cumbersome and wasteful process, to say the least.
Engineers and marketing managers in Black & Decker’s DeWalt professional construction tools division observed this extra step and realized that a 12-inch blade would solve the problem. And so they designed, built and marketed a new saw.
Following DeWalt’s standard innovation procedures, the engineers dropped the new saws off at job sites and returned several weeks later to see how they had worked. As expected, they worked well, and DeWalt’s miter saw became the No. 1 seller. The results were no surprise, given DeWalt’s intense focus on the end-user experience.
DeWalt’s innovation engine uses stage gates for milestones and approvals, which act as safeguards against any impulse to act too quickly. Durability and reliability are more important than speed, because the end users will know if a product isn’t up to snuff. It’s a process followed by several companies that innovate successfully. The particulars of the process will vary, but several innovation principles are equally applicable to technology-dependent organizations. These principles are:
Convergence of disciplines and silos lets the enterprise act as one. This is especially true regarding the management of business and technology; business ideas cannot be separated from the engine of execution. As an example, DeWalt’s technology people and its business people visit construction sites together. Nothing beats field observation and research.
Collaboration, using business technology, is enabled by convergence and is a common characteristic across all innovative companies; this includes collaboration across internal and external boundaries.
Organizational design is critical to realizing convergence and collaboration. That most organizations aren’t designed to optimize collaboration is obvious, but change is difficult. Too many individuals and fiefdoms are threatened. Change must be accompanied by new incentives, job descriptions, reporting lines, information flows and training.