Social Product Development

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Community for All

Tony started work by firing up his workstation, checking email, reviewing his project assignments for the day, and logging his company’s external customer forum to see if there was any interesting chatter. And he did all this (gulp) before his first cup of coffee. In the process, whether or not he was conscious of it, he interfaced with many different types of communities.

As a design engineer for a motorcycle manufacturer, perhaps Tony most closely views himself as a member of one community type: the project workgroup. Think of this community as the team which has a clear set of goals as mandated by the corporation. Examples projects may include: launching a new product line, making a major upgrade to an existing product line, or conducting a feasibility study on a manufacturing-initiated change request. Whatever the case may be, this type of community has a defined responsibilities, with clear roles and methods of oversight. The participants may span more than one company, and consist of engineers, product managers, and operations personnel from Tony’s company, as well as outside design partners, suppliers, and manufacturers. This team endures for a finite period - until the job is done, and then disbands with its members moving on to other projects. The value of the team is evident as it’s the corporation’s vehicle for meeting product development related business objectives.

Now, contrast that with another flavor of community. Let’s call this type CoP, for “Communities of Practice.” Effectively, CoPs are groups of likeminded individuals with common skills, challenges, and goals. Tony may be part of a “Transmission Engineering” CoP because of his design specialty. He may be one of only a few from his current “workgroup community” who participates in this particular CoP, even though there may be dozens of other transmission engineering CoP members spread throughout his company. A CoP is a place to gather and share expertise and ideas on common tasks while not being tied to any specific point-in-time project or task. Membership is voluntary, and its value is the rich pool of accessible knowledge.

Lastly, consider “open communities” spanning the entirety of the Internet, a virtual village green. These communities are collections of individuals who informally associate virtually, without necessarily having a common organizing entity of company, geography, or specialty. On the contrary, these communities form due to an external interest: perhaps an affinity for the types of motorcycles produced by Tony’s company. Members opt-in, have no specific responsibility, but contribute value in their opinions, passion, and evangelism for the products. This community’s contributions are of supreme value to Tony’s company in terms of guiding product direction and being a credible, independent source of information.

Each type of community has something different to offer, and contributes to product development in different ways. This implies that each might be best served by a differing set of technologies. What do you think? Are these types of community real and present in your environment? Did we miss any?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, Oleg, You Should Keep Secrets From Your PLM System

Recently, Oleg Shilovitsky asked this question on his blog, “Should I keep secrets from my PLM system?” My answer is “Yes!” Not every product-related piece of information should be controlled by a product lifecycle management application. I know what you’re thinking. Is this Robin Saitz talking? She’s worked at PTC forever, right? This is blasphemy, isn’t it?

Not really. When you think about it, there are many tools available to optimize product development. There are authoring tools, such as CAD/CAM/CAE, which are focused on making the individual engineer or designer more productive. There are enterprise applications, such as PLM, that are focused on governance and control of product information. PLM is dedicated to shepherding a promising product idea through design development, sourcing, change and configuration management, manufacturing planning, production, service, and retirement. But there’s another set of activities that hasn’t been suitably addressed by either PLM or Desktop apps.

Before an idea makes its way from an individual engineer or marketer to a PLM system for management and control, there are many people who could, should, and do get involved in considering that idea as well as other ideas, vetting them against ideas considered and discarded in the past, morphing ideas into better ideas, leveraging broader communities inside and outside their organization. This is true whether the idea is for a new product or possible way of solving a design challenge in a current product. Maybe you’re just stumped on a question; don’t know where to turn but think someone in your company should be able to help. PLM tools are designed to be structured and automate well-defined, formal product development processes. They are not designed to enable the type of fluid interaction I'm describing ….which is good, by the way, because companies count on PLM for governance to ensure that selected products get to market with all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted.

On the other hand, new social product development capabilities (those leveraging social computing technology) can significantly improve this type of idea exchange. It’s a more flexible and natural way of interacting, and doesn’t carry the constraints inherent in a governance system. Not every idea exchanged, considered, commented on, discarded or every question asked and answered needs to be in the PLM system. But having the freedom to spawn and discuss ideas and spontaneously ask questions or help out your colleague can make the process of getting the best ideas into the PLM system easier. Then the PLM system is tasked with managing the processes needed to bring that great idea to market.

Do you agree that tools are needed to facilitate these exchanges and that PLM may not be the answer?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Getting Smart with Social Product Development

Let’s face it, not many company execs wake up one morning and think “today I’ll buy a new CAD or product development solution” – much as we vendors would embrace such an approach.

The reality is that such decisions are typically driven by one or more business critical events, such as a lost opportunity, a failed product, a new competitor, and a whole host of other reasons. Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to these events, smart companies begin by asking some tough questions and using the answers to formulate and follow a plan for improvement. These plans take the form of clearly identified ‘business initiatives’, such as increasing the reuse of existing components and modules.

This structured approach is especially important for smaller manufacturing businesses (SMBs), which may not have the financial cushion and resources of their larger counterparts.

With all this chatter around social computing and its relevance to product development, it’s important to keep it in context. What we’re seeing is the emergence of new technologies, which will allow every stakeholder in the product development chain to more freely communicate and collaborate – not just internally, but with customers and suppliers. Here’s one of those tough questions I mentioned earlier: “How responsive are we to changing customer requirements?”

Interestingly, SMBs may be better positioned than larger organizations to enjoy the competitive advantages promised by this new social computing phenomenon. Being more nimble, smaller companies can adopt these new (and in many cases, free) technologies faster, and use them to improve processes, as well as find new markets and more customers (Hmm, as an answer to that tough question, think instant, dynamic and relentless focus groups). But, again, it takes a structured approach to make this promise a reality.

I have no doubts about social product development being the natural evolution for collaboration. At PTC, our “business fitness” program is focused on helping SMBs judiciously implement proven business initiatives. Social product development is an obvious addition to this program, and I’ll be writing more about how you can assess, embrace, and implement these technologies in a way that makes sense for your individual needs.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Demonstrating Social Product Development

Here comes yet another day, and with it, another blog. This time though, the idea is to show you how a social product development approach might look in practice by way of a short video. If a picture says a thousand words, I’m hoping this 3 minute video counts as much as a riveting 5 page whitepaper.

So, I’ll limit this text to a short introduction. Imagine that Chris, a design engineer, is working on implementing a change to a CAD engine assembly. This video explores 3 simple scenarios that Chris might experience as part of his daily work activities.

1. Chris communicates with another engineer regarding the timing of each one making changes to specific CAD models in session

2. Chris uses a wiki to capture some specialty design knowledge and modeling techniques he used on a particular design

3. Chris invokes a collaborative workspace from with the CAD system as a way to enlist the expertise of a small team of designers to help him make a change

We’re just scratching the surface of use cases here; there are limitless other possibilities. But let’s hear from you. How might you imagine participating in social product development?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Heightened sense of hearing...

The publishing benefits of social computing are well known and understood. With the advent of blogging, micro-blogging, forums and Wikipedia, there is certainly no shortage of “authors” communicating in an outbound direction. However, the value of social computing as an inbound communication tool – one that helps us get valuable feedback from our customers – is less well understood or practiced.

As a marketing professional, I believe that the most important of the five senses (or arguably six…) is the sense of hearing. Hearing is what allows us to listen (which are two very different things, by the way, but that topic is for another post), and listening is a vastly under developed skill in today’s fast-paced world of product marketing and communications.

In years past, before the advent of social networking, marketers would listen to customers through limited and sometimes clunky mediums, such as in-person focus groups and time-consuming surveys. These “listening” methods were not only expensive, but they recorded just a snap shot in time, and never really cast a wide feedback net. I remember one time organizing a focus group that was held early in the morning so it wouldn’t interfere with the participants work schedule and commitments. Everyone showed up tired and cranky (including the facilitators) because we had interfered with everyone’s regular routine. And to top things off, we committed a focus group faux pas: we served cold coffee…

Do you think we heard accurate customer feedback that day?

Fast-forward to today, where companies can engage with their customers anywhere -- and at any time -- over any number of mediums that are convenient to both parties helping us to better understand customer needs and requirements. Social networking and community building, in the context of product development, facilitates better listening that spans a wider range of customers and an evolving timeframe. Better listening to customer blog posts and comments, or by following customer “tweets” and replies, companies can capture valuable product requirement feedback over the entire product lifecycle rather than just one point in time. This ongoing feedback provides a more complete picture to product managers and design engineers.

Better-informed product managers and design engineer results in better products and faster time-to-market – and we all know the cost-savings benefits of getting to market faster with a better product.

Boil this all down and what you have is this: social computing, and therefore social product development, allows for a heightened sense of hearing and, more accurately, a greater opportunity to LISTEN to your customers. And, those companies that listen better to their customers will be rewarded by them in the marketplace.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Think Engineers and Web 2.0 Don’t Mix? Think Again!

This is what I set out to learn.

First, I read Groundswell in November 2008. In December I pitched to Rob Gremley the idea of having Josh Bernoff and Forrester Research create a social technographics profile of product developers using PTC products as well as those that don’t. How actively do designers and engineers participate in Web 2.0 and social media activities? How about CAD and IT administrators? Managers? Directors? And even VPs? What about across industries? Any differences between those coming from electronics and high tech and those working in aerospace and defense, for example? Are product development practioners from SMB’s any more or less active than those who work in large enterprises? Would we see consistent activity across the geographies PTC serves throughout the world? Do they use social media and Web 2.0 in business?


So we created a survey….some would say (and did) that it was too long. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We sent the global survey out to 750,000 contacts in March 2009. In just two weeks, we had over 7,000 complete responses – a record for PTC. Josh and team churned the data. And the results not only surprised us, but it surprised them, too! The social technographics profile for US online adults in 2008 looks like this.

In comparison, the social technographics profile for our product development practitioners looks like this:

An astounding 89% of the respondents used social media and Web 2.0 tools in their personal and/or professional lives. The data was so significant that we peeled away those that only use these tools for personal use, so we could look at only those who use these tools in their job. We got answers to all our questions. Here are some of the highlights:
  • All roles are active in social media; managers a little more so than designers and engineers, CAD and IT administrators a little more than managers
  • There were no significant differences across industries; however A&D was a little less likely to participate than other industries.
  • Individuals from SMBs were a little more likely than those from large businesses, but all were still very likely to participate.
  • Regarding geographic differences, all were active, but China, India, Germany, Korea were all more active than the US.

So, are product developers ready for social product development. I’d have to say emphatically, Yes!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Weak Ties Build Strong Networks

“Social networking” is a hot topic, and we’re hearing (or I guess ‘seeing’) many conversations around how it will change the way we create products in the future. I ran into a situation recently that might give you some insight into how social product development—particularly something called ‘weak ties’-- can work for you going forward. Here’s what happened:

I was looking for a ‘fast’ zoom lens in the 100-400mm range for my digital camera. I’d narrowed in on two lenses, each with slightly different features and strengths, but was having a hard time making a final decision. With the lens costing somewhere between $1,200 and $1,600, I needed to get it right. Time for some research.

Since most of my photography friends are on Facebook and Flickr, I had a couple of obvious places to begin asking questions, but unfortunately, none of my closest contacts had any experience with the exact combination of my camera body and either of the desired lenses. One of my contacts, however, pointed me to a Flickr group dedicated to posting shots from the same camera. After reading a few threads in their discussion group blog, I found someone - Bill in San Francisco - who owns the same camera body and who had been looking into the same lens that I wanted. Bill had rented a number of lens combinations, ran tests for a week, and posted the results. Amazingly, Bill’s photographic style is very similar to my own. He had essentially done all my legwork work for me, and was happy to share his results. He saved me a ton of time and effort in my research.

The point, of course, is that I never knew Bill before I asked this one question. But less than 15 minutes into my research, I found an expert on the subject – now an online ‘friend’ - plus literally dozens of comments, blogs, and opinions related to this very specific topic. In the world of social networking, Bill is referred to as a ‘weak tie’ – that is, someone that we ‘discover’ through online networking, who can help us ‘collaborate’ to accomplish a task—fast. Jim Brown has written a number of blogs on this topic, if you’d like to read more about it.

This concept of finding weak ties has real promise for product development. Name any topic, ask any question, and there’s probably someone out there who can help you out. The trick is finding them quickly and easily, without having to leave your design tool - and that’s just one element of what PTC is focused on with our social product development initiative.

On a related note, just imagine the value that a similar knowledge-base could bring to manufacturers—where designers and engineers are tapping into online communities to generate ideas, discover requirements, highlight gaps in product lines, and then capture, manage, and act on that information to develop new products. But that’s a topic for a later blog. Meanwhile, I have some pictures to take….

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scrutinizing time spent social computing?

Occasionally when I’m walking past a colleague’s desk at the office I’ll notice them quickly minimizing their browser at the very moment I’m passing by. Until recently, I would notice them discretely covering up news sites, shopping sites and often sports sites like ESPN. But more and more I’m noticing social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. As a manager, my initial reaction is to ask myself how anyone is getting any work done with the pervasiveness – and addictiveness – of social media. You could literally spend all day networking online with friends and co-workers (including those in the office next to you..??) if you aren’t careful.

But then I heard my mother’s voice harkening back to my childhood where she would often encourage me to stop watching TV (usually after only 20 minutes…) or stop playing video games (that was Space Invaders and Donkey Kong for me). Back then, I knew that I wasn’t watching too much TV or playing too many video games, mainly because I had far too much to do. I always made time to complete my homework, hang with my friends, walk my dog and play sports. And then it occurred to me that there must have been laggard managers out there in the business world when email and the Internet were first introduced, who wondered back then: How can anyone be productive with such “disruptive”, time-wasting technologies at their fingertips?

The answer is that breakthrough new technologies like this do not need scrutinizing because good, smart, committed employees will always find the right balance between getting stuff done and leveraging a new phenomenon like social networking. In fact, what will be really interesting is to watch the evolution of those who figure out how to leverage social computing to become even more productive in their professional lives.

Product Development is an excellent case in point, because it’s a highly iterative, collaborative, and social process. Product Development will undoubtedly benefit from an “industrialized” version of social networking whereby engineers will be able to more easily find each other, work with each other and learn from each other. I’ve already seen how time spent in online communities saves time and results in better informed decisions. The project deadline, or the urgency to get a product to market, will naturally regulate against the overuse of social computing technologies.

And, as it relates to Marketing - an area that I am keenly interested in - social computing has limitless possibilities for improving access to market research and customer information as an example (I will explore some of these possibilities in my next post).

As for my colleagues who minimize their browsers when I walk past your desk, no worries. I know you are making yourself smarter and more productive in your everyday work by leveraging technology to engage in social networking and, in particular, to better understand our customers. Similarly for myself, I will leave the blog page open proudly when you walk past my desk as they often have great ideas about improving accuracy and hitting your target...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Microsoft is getting its groove on

The introduction of social networking capabilities into the world of product development is not without some challenges. Not the least of these is overcoming the stigma that social networking has developed, fostered by either our own personal experiences with online communities or hearing news stories about teens doing something stupid online. Sometimes when I introduce social product development, I get a little snicker or a cynical smirk from the audience. Someone invariably says, "Oh yeah, like we're gonna use Facebook to run our business... right?!"

The perspective that social networking is the playground of teens and twenty-somethings is ridiculous. Peel back the fa├žade and you'll find a portfolio of capabilities that are tailor-made for improving collaboration, innovation, and productivity in product development. To date, most of these capabilities live in consumer-focused web applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Xing, etc. And while big business has started to use these sites for marketing purposes, they're obviously not viable for running critical business processes like product development.

Enter Microsoft. Who better to "industrialize" these social networking capabilities into a business-ready portfolio of applications? They've got scale. They've got ubiquity. And they've got their sights set on being the company that brings social networking to the enterprise. SharePoint is already licensed on 100 million machines, and is one of the fastest growing businesses within Microsoft. And while the current version of SharePoint is lacking some of the more advanced social networking capabilities, Microsoft is promising big improvements in SharePoint 2010.

I think there will always be niche applications with more advanced features than what we find in SharePoint. But - whether you love them or hate them - Microsoft desktop and productivity tools are what 99% of us use everyday to crank out work. Having our professional social networking tools tightly integrated into the app's that are so ingrained in our daily professional lives will carry the day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Take 2: Engineers Want a Formula For Social Media

This is a cross-post authored by Derrek Cooper, CFdesign product manager for Blue Ridge Numerics. He is mechanical engineer with over 10 years experience working in the CFD/CAD/FEA market.

Derrek writes about social media and the prospect of its use by engineers for product development. If I were to split hairs, I would say that social media as we generally know it today, is not a good fit for product development (too risky), but social computing is (see my introductory blog on this topic). I agree with his point of view and really like the way he talks about it...though I assume he's using the term "guys" in a gender neutral way :-). The type of response he gets is not unfamiliar to me. That said, I find our customers bring this subject up more often than I do. Here's an excerpt...

'....I have had conversation with guys about Twitter and other tools out there. Response is mixed, either they feel they "don't get it" or feel it's "not for me". The reasons are all over the map-- don't care, no time, not interested. What I find interesting is that these same guys don't have any issues frequenting certain forums of interest. I'm not sure Twitter is much different, it all depends on how you use it.

I do appreciate the skepticism, but I'm not a fan of narrow mindedness. Just because its different, just because you aren't into it or understand it, doesn't mean it has no value. Simply put, social media, in my eyes is about communication, interaction, collaboration, knowledge gathering and knowledge sharing. Hmm, parallels engineering pretty closely from a top level? I'm the first to admit that there is a lot of fluff that all gets categorized as social media. But I think there is tremendous value being "plugged in, connected and informed"....'

Read Derrek's full post here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's Who You Know AND What You Know

My cycling friend, Mark, got his hands on a number to run the 2009 Boston Marathon earlier this week. Official numbers are not easy to come by. Either you qualify (which he didn’t) or you run for a charity (which he wasn't planning). I asked Mark how he got that number and he gave me the old adage, “Robin, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And that got me thinking about social product development, because these days, that’s what I think about a lot…I’ve got a blog to write, after all.

No question about it, product development is extremely collaborative; you don’t just need to know any people, you need to know the “right people.” The people on your design team are some of “the right people.” But what about the people you don’t know who could contribute to making your product world-class, solve a big design problem, or connect you to a low cost but high quality source for a component. How do you find them? They are “the right people,” too.

Think about this: the last time anyone looked at your resume was when they interviewed you for your job, probably. If you’ve been with your company as long as I have been with PTC, you’ve probably had several roles and your career has evolved. You may have outside interests that could be relevant to a colleague’s current work challenge. But they don’t think to ask you about it, or worse, in a big company, they don’t even know you exist….You work in the same company, have great experience that could help them out of a bind, while they toil away, rack their brains, or pay a third party to save the day.

Andrew McAfee, who is a well respected Harvard Business School Associate Professor and MIT Sloan School of Management Visiting Associate Professor, describes Mark Granovetter’s theory of the ‘strength of weak ties’ (SWT) in his blog as it applies to business in general, but imagine its application in product development. I’m working on product A with Bill. Bill is also working on product X with Sarah. Bill, Sarah, and I each have profiles that consist of our skills and interests, but it also contains what we’re working on and links to product information (which we can only access with permission, of course). I’ve got a design challenge that could be solved if I can use my strong ties with Bill and product A, to connect to Sarah through product X.

One advantage of social computing technologies is leveraging the ‘strength of weak ties.’ Creating and searching on employee profiles could help you connect to the “right people.” Marrying social computing with product development technologies could not only let you search on people’s profiles, but also let you search on the valuable product data produced by the experts in your company and use that to connect to the “right people.” Social product development lets you exercise weak ties inherent in product information that historically you’d have no access to with general social computing technologies. There is a huge amount of knowledge wrapped into product models and bills of materials that defines a product. Why not use that to get to the “right people?”

So really, Mark, it’s who you know, who they know, AND what they know.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Day in the Future of Product Development?

Bob’s phone rang to the tune of the Kinks’ classic B-side “I Need You.” It was an alert message sent by his prototype drilling rig currently undergoing field testing. Environmental conditions at the test site were compromising its performance, and the onboard communications system was letting Bob know of the problem. Bob remotely messaged the machine, downloaded a full set of diagnostics, and performed a virtual fly through of the design. A specific error code contained in the diagnostic data visually highlighted a possible problem area on screen: a damaged casing was exposing the equipment’s sensitive internals to the elements.

Bob used his product development system to interrogate the rig’s design history, and was able to visually navigate through a network of information which mapped specific iterations of CAD files with all past and present team members that worked on them or on similar designs. The system combined these results with an enterprise profile search, and presented Bob with a pathway that indicated the most efficient social connection to the person with the necessary skills to help solve the problem. He saw that Fred, a long-time colleague and team member on other projects, was a close connection to Ned, the original design engineer and person with the requisite knowledge. Bob initiated an instant message chat with Fred, who made the introductions to Ned. After a video-based design session and with guidance from Ned, Bob had the design guidance he needed. He revised the CAD files and had manufacturing run updated tool paths in the CAM system. NC code was uploaded to the field-based machine shop to cut a new part, and Bob sent visual instructions to the test engineer’s handheld regarding how to perform the fix.

Whoa, hold the iPhone! Is this what's in store for product development? One day, it just may be. What do you think: plausible or not so much?

For your enjoyment, here are some famously incorrect technology predictions courtesy of

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ignore these skills at your peril…

After reading Robin’s recent posting about the importance of capturing the intellectual capital from an aging workforce, I got thinking about the other end of the workforce age spectrum – namely, a generation of incoming workers that are wide-eyed, eager, and… utterly dependent on social networking. Case in point, on a recent flight from Boston to London I overheard a young woman ask “How much does it cost to text from London, because I don’t think I could go a week without it?” And to tell you the truth, the best multi-tasker I’ve ever seen is my 17 year old nephew – simultaneously texting, emailing, and checking ESPN scores. He’s “always on,” using short bursts of communication to stay in touch, keep up with what’s important to him, and let others know what he’s doing.

Face it, the incoming workforce isn’t going to just ask to use social networking in the workplace, they’re going to demand it. And wouldn’t it be crazy not to tap into this social computing skillset when it arrives – prepackaged - on our doorsteps? I thought about telling my nephew that he was great at “collaboration,” but I’m pretty sure he’d say, “Yeah, sure thing, Uncle Rob… whatever that is.” So behind Door A, an entire industry of PLM vendors is trying to get everyone interested in the benefits of engineering collaboration. While behind Door B, my nephew and his college buddies just simultaneously traded A-Rod from their fantasy baseball team, changed the location of a study group, and shared a copy of last years final trig exam.

So here’s my premise… we need these new entrants to the workforce to play the role of “social” in social product development. To ignore these incoming social networking dependencies – uh, I mean skills – would be foolish. We need to provide technologies in the workplace that tap into these skills and leverage them. To equip my nephew with a landline and an email account would be to kill his connectivity and his productivity. Wouldn’t that be a waste?

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Aging Engineering Workforce: Lessons From Al

When I graduated from college I immediately started working at Raytheon as a "Member of Technical Staff," which is essentially an entry-level engineer. At the time, I was a bit of a novelty – a young woman, who studied engineering, among many men who had been at Raytheon a life time or were on their way. I figured I would do the same; after all, I never went to going-away parties at Raytheon, I went to retirement parties.

My manager, Al, was a wonderful man who took me under his wing and mentored me. He had so much engineering experience and I had very little. Aside from training me to run the Boston Marathon, which I did with his daughter, and giving me tips about saving for retirement (BTW, that was great advice), Al showed me the ropes at Raytheon. He gave me the opportunity to learn the CAD application they were using at the time, showed me how to find (using microfiche), order (where to find and fill out the forms), and check out drawings (from the physical vault) so that I could work with a draftsman or CAD operator to update them for an assembly retrofit. I remember working on a heat transfer problem and he shared his experience working on similar problems in the past.

Al taught me a great deal in the 2.5 years I worked at Raytheon. I took that experience with me to GTE and then to PTC. Now that Al is retired, I wonder what was done to capture his invaluable knowledge and experience so that it could be used to get new engineers up to speed quickly and referenced for new product development.

In conversations with customers, I hear how the aging engineering workforce is of great concern to them. IP and knowledge capture are top of mind. The emerging engineering workforce is growing up with social networking applications that are giving way to social computing. They expect to be able to use this technology in their new jobs. Experienced engineers stand to gain great satisfaction by sharing all they know with anyone who will pay attention…it’s human nature. Is there a better way to capture and harness the expertise of the Al’s of the world for the enthusiastic, yet social networking savvy entry-level engineers, than to connect the two using social product development?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Social Computing Meets Product Development

How many of you visit social networking sites? Maybe you have a LinkedIn account, you post on Facebook, you rate movies on Netflix, and maybe you have registered on the PTC/USER forums. Some people think this social networking stuff is pretty cool, but could never work in business. I was reading an O’Reilly Radar report the other day and Tim O’Reilly (timoreilly on Twitter) makes a great point: “…remember how the personal computer was dismissed by the titans of the computer industry as nothing but a toy? The future often comes to us in disguise, with toys that grow up to spark a revolution.” He was referring to Twitter, in this case. But it struck me that the same is true for social networking’s role in product development.

Collaboration is not new to product development. In fact, since the dawn of time, people have been working together to create innovative designs. In short, product development is a team sport. How well you and your company choreograph product development activities is key to the success or failure of your product and your business.

But beyond well defined business processes, which are absolutely necessary, individuals need to connect easily to information and people on an ad-hoc basis to get their work done. If you have used IM to get a question answered quickly while you are in a meeting or used Yammer to get information for a presentation, you know what I mean (note to my boss, BTW, get on IM….please). Product development is already social….but it can be even more so.

For business, social networking has evolved into social computing, and today, social computing technology has emerged as a real business application, but for product development it needs a boost. The real value of social computing in product development comes not only when you are connecting to people and documents, but when you are connecting to the content that defines your products -- and that content is helping you connect to people you don’t even know who can help you get your work done better and faster.

So while some of us have dismissed social networking as a fad or a toy for the teenagers and college students of the world, I have news for you: Social computing is here to stay and I think product development is ripe to take advantage of this new way of working.

What do you think? Does social computing have its place in product development?