Social Product Development

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time… The One Thing You Can’t Make More Of.

Make it better. Make it cheaper. MAKE IT FASTER. The pressures on product designers and engineers to crank out high quality, less expensive products are ever increasing. And no one is giving them more time to do it. In fact, they’re being asked (or told) to do it FASTER.

Yesterday, I talked with the Lead Design Manager from the Oracle America’s Cup racing team. Together with a group of very talented engineers and sailors, he and his design team just completed an incredible feat of engineering. They built one of the world’s fastest sailboats ever to win the America’s Cup sailing contest. They studied the complex rule system, conceived of the design, prototyped, analyzed, and built the boat. And they did it in six months. Flat.

If you haven’t been following the America’s lately, here’s a short lesson on how to win. Find a very wealthy sponsor who loves to sail. Assemble some of the brightest minds in aeronautics, engineering, composites, fluid dynamics, materials, and yacht design. Build a boat that kicks ass in any kind of weather and at any point of sail. Hand it over to world-class sailors and tacticians. Drink a beer while watching the race. Celebrate with expensive champagne.

The Oracle team of engineers and designers is spread out all over the world, because this kind of talent is rarely conveniently located in one place. Through amazing collaboration, these folks built what is basically a Boeing 747 wing (but 50% bigger), made it light and strong, and stood it up on a trimaran. Please buckle your seatbelts for take-off.

And they did it in six months.

There must be something about the number six, because that’s how many weeks the FIRST FRC robotics teams had to build their robots to compete in the regional competitions. Tomorrow and Saturday, I’ll be judging a regional 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition, evaluating the technical capabilities of robots that were conceived, designed, and built in six weeks. Flat. In this competition, there’s no slipping the schedule, asking for more time, pleading your case.

Build your robot. FAST. Period.

Just like the guys on the Oracle racing team, these teams pulled off an amazing feat of engineering. They collaborated across divides. They worked together against incredible deadlines. They were social. Open. Sharing.

I think social product development, and the introduction of web 2.0 capabilities into product development, holds great promise for helping do things faster. Think about your own personal productivity gains, with email, voicemail, IM, and cell phones at your disposal. Think about how the social web has helped you get things done faster. And then think about how product development will benefit from the same.

I’ll blog again after the FIRST competition and let you know how it went. Rest assured, one of the questions I plan on asking the teams is how they did it so FAST.

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  2. Nice tie in to FIRST Rob. Heading to the Vegas regional then on to Atlanta with our team. Those kids are amazing and it is exactly what our engineers are asked to do everyday.