Social Product Development

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Good Products Gone Bad

You don’t have to look far for stories of high-profile product catastrophes (see BP, Toyota, etc). Beyond their severe human and environmental effects, these failings shine a spotlight on product development. Creating viable, safe products entails solving a massive multi-dimensional constraint problem. You need to find the optimal mix of function, reliability, and aesthetics. But you need to do so quickly while thoroughly, with trusted yet cost-effective components, made with minimal manufacturing investment but without taking cheap shortcuts.And so on, and so on.

The sad fact is that sometimes these conflicting dynamics yield a product that fails to meet its expected level of quality with consequences ranging from trivial to fatal. To be clear, this discussion is not intended as critical commentary; it’s only to ask: can social product development help?

We’ve been writing for some time about the ways in which Web 2.0 methods can bring some great process advantages to product development and PLM. But, can these methods also act as a preventative safeguard against the release of under-performing goods?

What if, for example, a project team crowdsourced the validation process of a new component or system, called Project X. Within a secure workspace, guarded by proper access controls, the project manager would provide relevant product data, perhaps including CAD files, past FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis) approaches, and lessons learned from fielded equipment. The company might offer an incentive (a financial reward, public acknowledgement) to the community (which might be internal personnel with the requisite experience and knowledge, but who are not members of Project X) for the best validation approach offered. Previous attempts have been made along these lines. Commercial entities, such as OREDA, have been established for the purpose of aggregating and providing reliability best practices within specific industries. The difference is that this community-based alternative could offer a less costly approach.

Companies such as P&G are very active in this regard , so maybe it’s not too far-fetched. What do you think – could this alleviate some pressure in the realm of quality and reliability management?

On the lighter side, when it comes to bad products, I can’t help but think toy mogul Irwin Mainway pitching one of his top sellers, the “Bag O’Glass.” (You’ll have to endure an ad, but it’s worth it)


  1. Local Motors are one example of crowd sourcing for product development.

    There was a good article in Wired recently about new models of product development, all good opportunities for social PD ideas.

  2. Thanks Patrick. Looks like a really cool example.