Social Product Development

Friday, May 7, 2010

Forrester’s Roy Wildeman talks Social Product Development

Recently, Roy Wildeman sent me a link to his post on the Forrester blog on the topic of Social Computing for Product Development. He was kind enough to mention PTC as a company on the leading edge of integrating SharePoint with product development (thanks, Roy!) as well as provide some comments on his view of Social Product Development.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but I wanted to pick up on a point that Roy made.

Roy shares our feeling that social technologies and trends will not only “make their way into product development” but that they will in fact “transform the way leading product development teams collaborate to bring great products into the marketplace.” One of the key benefits he identifies is the effect that social computing can have on team collaboration:

The distributed nature of Social Computing tools – along with the relative speed by which they can be rolled out – enables development teams sitting in different sites or organizations to quickly convey more design ideas, intent, and context than the standard use of email, instant messaging, or teleconference calls.

While I agree wholeheartedly, I’d also like to expand on another significant benefit social computing has over traditional email, IM, or phone calls - the ability to create and support a one-to-many relationship with content experts. Think about a typical situation when you’re looking for a subject matter expert, but you’re not sure who that might be. Whether you’re using IM, email, or a phone call, the Mad Libs line is the same: “Hi [contact name], are you the right person for [extremely important bit of information I need, um, yesterday]? No? Do you know who might be?” Add to this any lag in response time because said contact left his smart phone on silent and you’ve added significant time to your process before you’ve even started collaborating.

Social computing, on the other hand, supports the independent discovery of not just the one potential expert that you know, but a network of qualified contacts – identified though profiles, relationship, social tags – that you can reach out to for the content or feedback you need. Add to this the benefits that Roy alludes to – being able to see that three of those potential contacts are online and available to chat right now – and you’ve got a significant increase in efficiency. Think of it not so much as identifying contacts you didn’t know, but identifying contacts you didn’t know you knew.

Roy does posit that implementing social computing in a product development environment as “easier said than done” – for our thoughts on overcoming that challenge, see this recent post by our development team. Certainly, there are challenges to successfully implementing social product development – but I also agree with Roy that they can be overcome through process and technology understanding and innovation.

So what did you think about Roy’s post? Did you agree with his perspectives? What do you see as the benefits and challenges of social for manufacturers?


  1. Good read Erin. Thanks for the feedback. To be sure, the capability to quickly tap an extended network of experts that can provide you with new ideas or answers is a big part of the Social Product Development potential -- particularly when you've exhausted all your known 'circles' and still need help. I think there is a really interesting analogy is in job hunting: if you're out of a job, you might start asking all your friends and family if they know of any good positions open. But because you all live in the same area, and tend to do the same things, you all have basically the same information on what good jobs (or lack thereof) are out there. Its only when you start networking outside your immediate circle -- and re-connect with that former colleague, or fellow university alumni, or what have you -- that you find new info. With Social Computing, you can make these extended connections MUCH easier and faster -- one of the real reasons I think professional networking sites like LinkedIn have grown in popularity over the last few years. It will be interesting to see how, in product development, how internal/external communities flourish to support similar "new info" needs.

  2. I think Roy (and Erin reflecting on his post) highlight one of the key challenges we deal with when developing highly complex products: Knowledge capture. While PLM systems can manage the highly structured information represented in a part or an assembly, capturing unstructured information is a challenge. It could well be that Social Computing shows a solution: The more knowledge engineers share through wikis, blogs, and communities the less you have to try and capture: Sharing information could be the best way for enterprises to preserve the collective knowledge of their engineers.

  3. Thanks, Roy and Thomas!

    Roy - I *love* the analogy of a job search, especially because it illustrates a great point on adoption! Take an existing process (in this case, networking for a job lead), add social computing that optimizes that process, and adoption becomes second nature. I think enterprise 2.0 and Social Product Development adoption needs to be driven by exactly that philosophy - understand the process, not just the technology.

    Thomas: fantastic point - and it brings to mind a thought I almost included in the original post. A real advantage to social computing, especially in regards to product development, is that it allows not only real-time collaboration, but also what I suppose you could call "any-time" collaboration...access to IP, discussion streams, and shared knowledge relevant to your topic, regardless of whether the content originated from the engineer in the office today or the engineer who retired two weeks ago.

  4. I read your blog very impressed seen this kind of important information’s. Really am interested to back to your blog again to gather some more information’s.

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  5. Thanks, cltech! Glad to have you reading!

  6. Good discussion! I think, social software will definitely take some traction in product development and manufacturing. However, I believe, three possible options possible - collaborative technologies, user experience and intelligence of social networks. Best, Oleg

  7. Thanks, Oleg! I responded on your blog, but I will post the copy here to keep the discussion going as well!

    I definitely agree with a lot of your points - especially about the beginning of “social PLM” being very exciting! You mention that social has caused a transition from connecting with data to connecting with people. I think it’s actually that social gives equal weight to people and data – allowing us equal access to past, current, and future content…”any-time” collaboration instead of just “real-time” collaboration. A great example – and one that highlights a potential benefit for social PLM – is content forums. Without social, if I have a content question, I would have to search in a very linear fashion...try to identify an expert, call, leave a message, redirect to a new person, etc. Now, I can go to a forum specific to the topic I’m looking for, populated by users who are self-identified experts. I can search for my answer – giving me access to past data whether the person is available or not (they could be on a beach in Fiji, celebrating their retirement). If I can’t find what I need, I post my question to get responses in real time. Or I can look for someone who’s answered similar questions in the past and reach out to them directly. Even after I’m satisfied with my answer, the thread I’ve started can live on as new solutions (even those not possible when I originally asked) and contributions are made by others now in a similar position to me.

    So, I think it's not so much three options - collaboration, user experience, and intelligence - but three necessities! Great discussion, and very interesting topic!

  8. Erin,
    Great post. I love what you say about subject matter experts. I believe that where most people will start is collaboration, as Roy point touched on. The simplest place to get started with social computing in product development is to use social networking with people you already know. Engineering and product development teams have an opportunity to extend their interactions in a new and valuable way.

    What you are discussing lies beyond collaboration with people that are already in your network. You bring up the idea of reaching out to new people in order to extend the team and gather new viewpoints and expertise. This is what I called "social discovery" in Going Social with Product Development on the Clarity on PLM blog last year ( To me, this has significant potential value but will likely require new processes and/or business models as opposed to more simply extending existing collaboration with social software.

    Great to see the discussion. I will post a link on the Social Computing in PLM group on LinkedIn as well.


  9. Thomas,
    I love to see the discussion on product knowledge. The ability to document and capture the informal product development discussions and decisions holds huge potential. What is missing from the conversation is how to make that information useful. That is where PLM integration comes in. Until that information is put in the context of the product record (and easily searchable for reuse) it will fail to deliver on its full potential. That is the difference between "easy to roll out" social software and a true socially enabled PLM solution. But first things first, I believe we will see collaboration as Roy discusses and knowldege capture will mature over time.

  10. Indeed a very interesting discussion. To Jim's last comment, I agree that capturing all this informal discussion makes sense, but how extract relevant (to the project) information from it. also from an auditing perspective an informal "teaming" process does not make this job easier. Maybe a blend of process automation and social interaction might be a better way in some industries

  11. Jim - excellent point. I want to expand on your last comment...that making PLM social will "likely require new processes and/or business models as opposed to more simply extending existing collaboration with social software." I think it's absolutely true, and something we've seen with social in general. There are certainly web 2.0 tools that simply improve how we accomplish our existing processes - like IM vs. a phone call - same process, new technology. But there are also phenomena like "twittering/yammering", which in my view is really a new behavior *created* by the technology; there isn't really an historical processes precedent for it. The challenge for PLM is going to be figuring out the balance between the two - where existing processes can be enabled by social tools and where new *behaviors* will be incorporated into a user's regular workstream as a result of the technological capabilities.

    Either way, it's very exciting!

  12. Jim, good point: I interpret what you are saying as "context is king if you want to make information useable". What I believe I read is that you propose to make the content of informal, Web 2.0 style discussion, "stick" to a part or assembly or process step in a PLM environment ... In my mind this translates into a new type of associativity - in this case a link between "formal" PD content and informal Web 2.0 content. Compelling thought!