Archive for category Products

New Product Development: How Twitter was like Ice-Cream

In a recent New Product Development lecture I gave at Tec de Monterrey, I expanded on my previous examples about consumer-centric innovation. In past lectures I’ve emphasized how most successful new products address a consumer need, pain-point, or desire, whether articulated or unarticulated.  I also discuss how engineers (the field that kicked-off my career) have a tendency to innovate or design for the sake of invention vs. with consumer or market needs in mind.  A question arose in the past – is that always a bad thing (to create something just because you can).  My response was no (with a caveat), and I used Twitter as an example.

The first time I met Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, was at a tech conference at my alma mater, UC Berkeley in 2009.  During his keynote address, he talked about some of the criticisms of Twitter when it first launched. The main criticism he faced was that Twitter served no useful purpose.  Mr. Stone’s response (quoted loosely from memory) was “Ice-cream has no useful purpose either – does that mean we shouldn’t have created ice-cream?”.

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Needless to say, Twitter has been tremendously successful since it’s founding in 2006 with roughly 271 million active users (out of over 500 million total worldwide users) today. The reason for Twitter’s success is that it satisfied latent and mostly unarticulated needs of most of its users. Companies and brands discovered an almost costless tool for marketing compared to other media. They could now directly communicate with consumers about their products, services, and brand offerings, while also hearing directly from them to address consumer issues and continue driving innovation through new and improved products that leverage the voice of the consumer. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were largely coordinated through Twitter, as organizers and protesters didn’t start off with a direct connection to each other. In the case of disaster relief, Twitter was used to provide information to emergency response teams, find lost loved ones, and provide real-time situational updates. Politicians use Twitter to speak and hear directly from their constituents and launch/promote their election campaigns. Music artists announce music and concert information directly to their fans.  And celebrities, of course, continue to build and promote their own personal brands through Twitter, with a direct line of communication to their fans.

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One of the best definitions I’ve seen of true innovation is perfectly captured in the Venn Diagram below; true innovation comes at the intersection of consumer desirability, market viability, and technological feasibility.  So while Twitter may have just started as an exercise in showcasing what could be possible, the reason for its success is that it also satisfied the consumer and market variables as well.  This is, of course, far easier to accomplish when the product in question is a platform and its ultimate utility will be determined by developers and users over time.  It’s much harder to accomplish as a stand-alone product. (For this reason I predict the “Yo” app, which has received similar criticism to what Twitter received in the beginning, will not be much of a success).  So while certainly feasible to have a success just by focusing on technology, it’s certainly not the most efficient way of innovating.

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I also talked about the Pet Rock as a separate example, which I’ll expound on in a separate post.

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Kinect and Xbox 360 Setting Records

250GB-Kinect-Bundle As the Product Planner for both the Xbox 360 Kinect (originally called Project Natal) and the complete redesign of the Xbox 360, I was thrilled to read the latest news about these two amazing products:

1) Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, selling 8 million units in its first 60 days and over 10 million units to date, beating out Apple’s iPhone and iPad (read the source material directly from Guinness World Records here and The Hollywood Reporter here).

2) Xbox 360 has its biggest non-holiday month ever in February 2011, up 27% from last year, ahead of both Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3 (read the source material from cnet News here and from Joystiq here).

As a business case study for New Product Development and Product Management, this is a great example of the results achievable when two things happen.  First, the overall Corporate Strategy, in this case, to broaden the appeal of interactive entertainment, drove the Product Strategy. Second, aligning all of the internal resources to execute on the Product Strategy to create a holistic and compelling consumer experience (in this case, the hardware, the games, the user interface, and the services all align to bring together the “magic” that is Kinect).  A great piece that captures this is available from Wired Magazine’s article – Kinect for Xbox 360: The inside story of Microsoft’s secret ‘Project Natal’.

To further share this story, I’ve organized an event entitled “Microsoft Presents: The Engineering Behind Kinect and the New Xbox 360” scheduled for this Wednesday, March 16, 2011.  Full details are available at the registration link (http://kinect-shpe.eventbrite.com/).  The General Managers for both the Xbox Hardware Division and the NUI (Natural User Interface) HW team will be presenting the technical development of these products to local engineering students and members of professional organizations in the Puget Sound, including:

  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
  • SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers)
  • SWE (Society of Women Engineers)
  • NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers)
  • CIE (Chinese Institute of Engineers)
  • NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBAs)

Congratulations to the full team on the success of both Kinect and the new Xbox 360!  It’s been an honor to work with a great team of outstanding individuals to develop these products that are being enthusiastically embraced by millions of happy consumers around the world.

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New Product Development Lecture – Overview

I’ve received a lot of requests to post my lecture slides from UW students that were at my lecture on New Product Development and attendees who saw my Keynote address on “Leading with Creativity and Innovation” at the EDI 2nd Annual Leadership Conference in late January.  Since my slide deck uses almost no text and is heavy with imagery, posting the full deck will be of little value.  So instead, I’m going to break up the lectures into a series of blog posts.  Across this series, I’ll talk about Product Planning and Product Management, and the New Product Development (NPD) process, all from my perspective of having worked in NPD for around 15 years in several industries, including Automotive, Consumer Package Goods (CPG), Technology, and Videogames and Entertainment.

I’ll start off by visually showing the progression of my career in the NPD process.  The major stages of new product development can be seen in the image below, courtesy of Detra Montoya, Professor of Marketing at the University of Washington.  She uses this chart during her Marketing 301 course, so I like to leverage it when I give my NPD lecture to UW students so they can see the practical, real-world applications of their course material.

New Product Development Overview

It’s important to note that the above general stages of the NPD process are specific to a product, and not the overall product roadmapping process or Product Management/Product Planning function.  The above assumes that the overall product strategy and roadmap have already been developed, and one is now ready to begin developing new products with clearly established goals/markets/segments, etc.  Additionally, depending on the company, industry, and sometimes even the product, the stages may be in a different order, or even parallel instead of sequential.  For example, I prefer to do a preliminary business analysis before any concept development/testing, and then a more thorough business analysis before going into development.

As a Design Engineer at Honda R&D (Ohio, USA) and Porsche AG (Stuttgart, Germany), my primary focus was Product Development.  That is, taking the final concept and engineering a solution (in my case, for the Body Design) to make the concept a reality.

New Product Development 02 - Honda

It’s also important to note here that within the Product Development stage you see above, there is also concept development and testing that is necessary to ensure the engineering solutions meet the goals and intent of the product.  The Concept Development and Testing stage shown in the figure refers mainly to the various solutions available for a particular consumer need or product goal, and market testing those different solutions/concepts with the appropriate consumers to whittle the field down to one direction.  Some product testing (vs. consumer testing) also takes place (i.e. in the automotive world, aerodynamic testing would be done on several of the initial clay concepts to narrow the field).  Once one of those concepts is selected for product development, additional concept development and testing occur to meet the defined product goals.  Using another automotive example, mounting internal panels could be accomplished through fasteners, plastic tabs, adhesives, etc., which could all be developed and tested to find the best method to meet the selected concept direction.

After receiving my MBA at UC Berkeley, I switched from automotive design engineering to marketing, specifically in Brand Management with P&G.  At the time, I was hired to focus on the U.S. Hispanic Market, which was done out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with my brands being Gain detergent and Downy fabric softener.  In this brand management role, my responsibilities expanded over a broader range of the NPD process as shown below, with primary focus on go-to-market (GTM) strategies.

New Product Development 03 - Procter and Gamble

Since joining Microsoft over six years ago and working as the Global Product Manager / Product Planner for Xbox hardware, my primary focus has shifted to the front end, but still encompasses an even greater portion of the NPD process.  That is due to the difference in the NPD process between a typical CPG company (P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, etc.), and most technology and consumer electronics companies.  A typical CPG brand manager will own one or two products through the entire product life cycle (from ideation to end-of-life or EOL).  At Microsoft, products get handed off depending on its stage in the product life cycle.  Product Planners and Product Managers focus on the front end, from ideation to product development.  Product Marketers will focus on the commercialization and GTM strategies once the product is fully defined.  The advantage of this format in my current role is that I have worked on the front end of nearly every hardware product launched for the Xbox 360 (over 40 shipped products in total).  The skills needed to ideate a new product can be quite different from the skills needed to take a pre-defined product to market, so this enables the Product Managers and Product Marketers to leverage these skills across a broader array of products.

New Product Development 04 - Xbox

That concludes this segment on my NPD series.  In future segments I’ll elaborate on how to get to the stage of idea generation and give some case studies on prior work.

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My top favorite technologies/products/services

I decided to make a list of the top 10 technologies, products, and services that I cannot live without.  Actually, I’m sure I can live without them, but I’ve become so dependant on many of these that they are quite indispensible.  After much deliberation, I decided to expand the list to the top 15 since there were some items that truly deserved mention.  Of this list of 15, eight (8) happen to be Microsoft products and this is not due to the fact that I work for the company.  On the contrary, this simply highlights one of the reasons why I love working for Microsoft – because they create great products and services that become an integral part of my work/life.  Here is the list, roughly in priority order.  I’ll elaborate on each item in future postings.
1) Xbox 360 (and Xbox Live)
2) Netflix
3) Zune (Zune HD, Zunepass, Zune Video Marketplace)
4) Facebook
5) Bing
6) Microsoft Outlook
7) Online Banking
8 ) Microsoft Office 2010 (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote)
9) Wikipedia
10) Youtube
11) Windows 7
12) Skydrive
13) Office Live Workspace
14) TurboTax
15) Tweetdeck

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New Xbox 360 and Kinect

So two programs that I have been working on for quite some time were announced at E3 2010, and just today the pricing of these programs was announced.

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2010/jul10/07-20kinectpackagepr.mspx

The newly redesigned Xbox 360 250GB Console retails for $299.  The just announced Xbox 360 4GB will retail for $199.
Additionally, the controller-free experience Kinect (which used to be Project Natal) has been announced at $149 with the game Kinect Adventures.  It will also come in a console bundle with the 4GB Xbox 360 for $299.

Lots of games for Kinect were announced at E3 as well.  The one that most caught my eye from the Microsoft E3 Media briefing is Dance Central from Harmonix.

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