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IDEO Product Development Case Solution

Solution Id Length Case Author Case Publisher
780 1082 Words (3 Pages) Stefan Thomke Harvard Business School : 600143
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The following case analysis provides an analysis of the product development strategy of IDEO, one of the world’s largest and most successful product development organizations. Located in Silicon Valley and led by David Kelly, the company is a remarkable example for all the product development firms across the world. This analysis presents an insight into not only how the top management has imbued the element of creativity in the organization’s culture and among all its employees, but also outlines benefits and features resulting from this culture. In the end, the analysis also considers the feasibility of a new project undertaken by the company after assessing all the constraints.

Following questions are answered in this case study solution:

  1. How would you characterize IDEO’s design process?

  2. How is its process affected by its culture? By its organization? And by its management?

  3.  Decision point: Should IDEO accept the Visor project as is? Should they try to persuade Handspring’s management to change its aggressive launch schedule? Or should they simply decline the project? Please consider both IDEO’s and Handspring’s perspectives.

IDEO Product Development Case Analysis

1. How would you characterize IDEO’s design process?

The distinctive nature and features of IDEO’s design process is based on the concept of concurrent engineering, which is basically a fusion of engineering and art to produce technically competent and aesthetically pleasing products. The culture of building a prototype stands at the center of their design philosophy. The act of building frequent prototypes not only allows them to get to the right product more quickly by making sure that everyone is standing on the same page, but also provide them an opportunity to communicate with their clients and experts by showing them rough designs, giving them an idea, and getting their approvals. To make this step more efficient, the top management had setup shops staffed with highly skilled machinist, in all of their offices to assist the designers in building both simple and complex prototypes. Another distinct feature of their design process was that during the initial phase, they did not spend extra time in making perfect prototypes rather they used card boards, Legos, foam core and erector sets to build them. This strategy allowed them to present their ideas swiftly and give a visual representation to everyone. They followed three “R” philosophy for prototyping i.e. rough, rapid and right. This philosophy allowed them to focus on parts of the product by making prototypes for smaller parts rather than of the entire product. All these distinct characteristics of the design process were made possible mainly because of the supporting culture and environment of the organization, which not only promoted creative ideas, but also celebrated failures. As a result, IDEO’s practice of building quick and rough prototypes gave them an edge over their competitors and made them the market leader.

2. How is its process affected by its culture, by its organization, and by its management?

IDEO’s founder, David Kelly and its management very well understood the requirements of a product design and development company; therefore, they made sure that the company’s culture is not only supportive but also promoter of creative ideas and designs. First of all, brainstorming sessions were held daily to generate as many ideas as possible during the design stage. A productive brainstorming session would produce approximately 150 ideas in forty five minutes. The company used a funnel approach where at the beginning it would have plenty of ideas and as it moved forward towards the base it would be left with one or two ideas only. The management also made sure that employees don’t get upset if their ideas are not selected. Secondly, the management made ‘failure’ a part of the culture. It was obvious to the top management that a firm operating in such a business would face many small or big failures during their operation; therefore, they incorporated it in their culture by celebrating it rather getting disappointed because of it. This allowed employees to give their best without having a fear of failure. In addition to all this, the company allowed its employees to design their cubicles as per their wish to exhibit their personality. There was no dress code and employees were free to roam around and talk to people in case they are stuck in some situation. Moreover, to promote the culture of creativity, the management held ‘show and tells’ on every Monday where engineers and designers used to exhibit their new product developments. Furthermore, human resource functions also played a critical role in setting up this distinct culture. Employees were hired via their internship programs only, and there was no firing at all. New teams were formed for every project and smaller studios made sure that each employee contributes. There was a stage when IDEO had nearly three hundred employees, almost three to five times higher than other design firms. The company had no job titles allowing everyone to work on the same level and contribute effectively.

3. Decision point: Should IDEO accept the Visor project as is? Should they try to persuade Handspring’s management to change its aggressive launch schedule? Or should they simply decline the project? Please consider both IDEO’s and Handspring’s perspectives.

From the IDEO’s point of view, obviously the time limit was short and the task was challenging. In addition, the job required by the client was also not in line with the company philosophy as IDEO believed in investing considerable time in its initial stages of product development so as to make the end product a wonder in itself. The client wanted to implement ‘tried and true’ methods only, because of the time pressure. 

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