Social Product Development

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Means to an End: Collaborative Product Development

Last week, Mashable! posted an article titled “How Social Media Has Prepared Us for Collaborative Business.” If you have a few extra minutes, jump over to that article, and come back afterward.

The core of the article is that working collaboratively – whether shoulder-to-shoulder on a drafting table, or across the ocean using a webcam, or asynchronously through a discussion forum – can produce great results. Most of the “social” social sites, like Facebook and MySpace and Twitter, get press that relates to those sites being a place to goof off or waste some time. However, we’re a sum of our surroundings, and we’re often connected socially to some contingent of people with whom we interact professionally.

As Kraig states (and my emphasis added):

But when we come to work, we throw all of this out the window. The concept of immediacy doesn’t exist here, and arguably, this is where it matters most. Many businesses are stuck in the past, using antiquated technologies that were put in place before the web even existed. For new graduates entering the workplace, it’s counterintuitive to have to revert to these slow forms of collaboration. As a result, we are more productive with our personal networks than we are with our colleagues and customers.

Think about that for a moment. Look around you at work. Are you surrounded by people older than you, younger than you, or the same age? How technically savvy are they? How resourceful are they in seeking answers? In my experiences and observations, I’ve used and seen used many tools to get the job done, from Google searching to asking friends on LinkedIn to a telephone call to asking the senior engineering manager in person. All are forms of social collaboration. Two of those methods didn’t exist 13 years ago. It might not seem like it, but social search is a form of asynchronous social collaboration. The power of social search is not to be dismissed.

The table that Kraig uses on the Mashable! post is perfect:

“Yes, but how does this relate to product development?” you may ask. Imagine you are working on an antenna design for a mobile telephone, and you want to ensure that holding the device a particular way isn’t going to obfuscate the radio reception. But, the radio engineer with whom you regularly consult is away on vacation. And there aren’t really any other engineers in the office to whom you can turn. If you are connected to a network of other engineers (who might have knowledge on the subject matter, but you didn’t really know that; or might be connected to someone who does), you could possibly get your answers.

Instead of…

You Now…

Post photos from the BBQ last Saturday and it will show up in the feeds of your friends and family.

Post renderings of the assembly housing to get reactions from the team.

Collaborate with friends to plan a camping trip for next month.

Organize the next cross-functional team meeting.

You follow @tylerflorence or @gdelaurentiis on Twitter for cooking tips.

Follow your competition on Twitter to ensure that you’re keeping pace (if that’s relevant to you).

You follow @Starbucks on Twitter for the latest deals and customer service.

Follow customer service/technical support for your product/s so you can understand the issues and the resolution.

You post questions to your Facebook wall or Twitter feed to get recommendations and insight from friends and industry experts.

Externally, you post questions to solicit use cases and design ideas. Internally, you post issues to get multiple responses, perhaps surfacing one you didn’t initially think of.

There are more examples of this. Jim Brown and Dora Smith talk about this as well. Check out their SlideShare presentation, and be sure to note the graphic on slide 21.

We’ve talked about this on the Social Product Development blog more than once because it’s something in which we passionately and truly believe. Do you? Can you share an example of using official or unofficial digital and social collaborating to develop a product? Let us know in the comments.

opening image source: Mashable! table image source: Mashable! article


  1. Great article. I would add is that one of the reasons social media works is the plurality of tools. Twitter doesn't have a photo sharing service, but there are dozens to choose from with a scalable set of capabilities, depending on need. Facebook is great unless you want to post high-res photos. Thank goodness for Flickr.

    Unfortunately, it's rare that an engineer gets to choose the the right tool for the job. How easy is it to add a customer to the project team collaboration site when that violates IT policy? How likely is it that a design engineer can use whatever 3D system is best for a certain project? How much fun would Facebook be if we were all forced to use it everyday?

    I suspect that's why we're seeing aggressive engineering organizations adopt SpaceClaim as a secondary 3D modeler that complements their hard-core CAD systems. It's amazing how resourceful engineers can be when they have access to tools that let them get their job done without a lot of fuss. When everybody in an organization can create and manipulate in 3D, from sales engineers to executives, product development takes on a much more social dynamic. There's little need for supporting infrastructure. Engineers can accomplish a lot with email and GoToMeeting. And they seem to be having fun while doing it!

    If you don't want social product development to be like Flickr in a world without cameras, make sure every engineer, not just the CAD jockeys, has access to lightweight and easy-to-use 3D.

    (SpaceClaim Co-Founder)

  2. Blake,
    Thanks for stopping by. Indeed, some of the decisions you list above are beyond the control of an individual engineer. The purpose of the post wasn't to be taken as literally as you did. Rather, the purpose was two-fold... [1] Thinking more broadly, how could one better do their jobs if they expanded their 'everyday' network and accessed more than just a handful of people? This gets to the idea of breaking down walls and loosening restrictions in typical 'command and control' organizations. [2] As you have probably spent some time doing before commenting, you'll notice from our past posts that this idea is something that we're working into our DNA here at PTC. We've presented some early concepts to our customers at PTC USER, and you can expect more things soon.

    Feel free to check back (or subscribe to the RSS feed) to get future updates. We'll be sure to do the same.

  3. Alan, good to see you are focusing on social stuff and comparison between social tools in personal use and work life. However, I'd like to highlight one important thing that seems to me is missed in many Facebook-clones. This is a "content". It is easy to make yo conversation social, by sharing pictures, videos and links with some text inclusion. Why? Because, pictures, videos and links are easy to share... Now, think about engineering and design content. It is so different. How you are going to share product design? ECO list? etc... What is your view on that? How are you going to do it in Windchill Social Link?
    If you have a moment, please take a look on my post - Top 3 Elements of a Successful Social PLM Strategy (
    Best, Oleg