Social Product Development

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.

1 comment:

  1. Robin, this is what I talk about in regards to "discovery" by using social networking in PLM. I think it's important that people see that these new technologies can help extend collaboration to a whole new community of people that we don't know (and as you say, we may not even know they exist). More on the "discovery" concept in my post "What I Learned: Why Social Networking in PLM is More than Just Collaboration"