Sunday, March 30, 2008

Modular Design for the Extended Enterprise

A "MILK" desk with embedded aquarium module

The Danes are so closely associated with clean, modular, functional furniture design that the term "Scandinavian Design" conjures immediate images of Danish furniture. The website demonstrates in 3D (requires Adobe Flash Player) that a beautiful and functional desk can be created modularly from a platform, by which we mean:

  • A module is a self-contained unit that is designed to interact with other units
  • The platform is a design solution composed of a core module and a collection of related modules that can be attached to form a complete design
  • A finished design has more value to the user than the sum of the values of the modules
A platform manager creates a set of clearly articulated rules that governs the design of the modules, including:
  • Market intent
  • Product functionality and aesthetics
  • Specifications for interoperability of modules
  • Time frames, milestones and deadlines
  • Infrastructure for collaboration
  • Governance of market collaborators
When the platform manager executes contracts to interact with suppliers of services related to the provisioning or fabrication of modules or the assembly, distribution, or sale of completed designs, the manager creates an extended enterprise, sometimes called a value chain.

Participants in this extended enterprise of collaborating suppliers of products and services may be:
  • Owned and operated by the platform designer (internal) or owned by a third party (external)
  • Selling solely to the platform designer (exclusive) or selling to many others (non-exclusive)
  • Co-located with the platform design (on-site) or geographically distinct
  • Strategically aligned with the business of the platform designer or independently operated
Whereas the design of the product platform is critical to the success of its product family, the design of the extended enterprise determines the success of the business itself.

See also our posts:
See our newsletter on Restaurant Lifecycle Management here.

To learn more about our work in consulting, read about our Practice or check out our Case Studies

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Surprise of the New

Shannon Farrell Williams, violist

Innovations frequently, perhaps typically arrive before they have found a receptive market. Just as consumers must learn to adapt their tastes and habits to the concept, so must suppliers adjust their offerings to serve new requirements efficiently. Operating within this constantly adjusting milieu, investors may decide to pull a product today that might very well succeed with only minor adjustment later.

This is as true for consumer products as it is for music. Composer John Adams introduced three
versions of Dr. Atomic; the 4-hour opera debuted in October, 2005; the first symphonic version was introduced in London in August, 2007 and an even more condensed, more melodic symphonic version premiered in St. Louis and New York in March, 2008 to much greater acclaim.

For a less famous composer, the distance between obscure appreciation and popular success can be much longer. In the twenty years since George Benjamin first introduced Sudden Time audiences learned to appreciate a composer's play with cadence and discordance in the development of a complex musical theme and musicians developed new techniques to give full measure to the composer's intent.

In his excellent blog for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO), Eddie Silva discusses how difficult it is to introduce innovative, unfamiliar music:

How do you program concerts when you have audiences that want entirely different things from a night with the SLSO?

You [the audience] are paying money to be entertained, or maybe more than entertained. Do you want the familiar or are you interested in what is unfamiliar? What if you pay good money and you just don’t like it? What if you are like the poet C.D. Wright, who once wrote that she went to art “to be changed, healed, charged.”


There are still people who think Jackson Pollack drip paintings are child’s play, a hoax, an affront to their sensibilities. An easy assumption is that the artist is putting you on...


yet you had only to have witnessed the absolute joy on George Benjamin’s face after the SLSO gave his "Sudden Time" such a mesmerizing performance at Carnegie Hall*, where the subtle tablas felt like raindrops and the final viola solo (played exquisitely by Shannon Farrell) felt like the melodies of gods. Benjamin looked like the kid who gets the tour with Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory -- and you knew he wasn’t fooling with you or trying to get into your face. As a composer he was in search of a profound beauty unlike anything else. And he had just heard it.

Too many products and too many scores are scrapped, rather than shelved, when they fail to meet certain market tests. A wealth of intellectual property, literally thousands of learnings from hundreds of thousands of sources can be destroyed in that process.

Consumer products companies have only recently begun to catalog the product-related information accumulated during a product's lifecycle. By adopting effective Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) processes to capture and preserve this hard-earned corporate knowledge as it is accumulated they can save a fortune in product redevelopment when markets align: when "Sudden Time" becomes Now.

*The concert was performed on March 30, 2007. See reviews of the entire concert by Bernard Holland in the New York Times and Eddie Silva on

See also an interview with David Robertson, conductor and music director, on his approach to classical music.

For another article on innovation featuring the St. Louis Symphony, see Innovation Thrust Upon Us.

Just for FUN, visit this site to create your own "Jackson Pollock"

To learn more about our work in consulting, read about our Practice or check out our Case Studies

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mastering Innovation Management

Throughout 2002 US manufacturers were cutting costs and curtailing investment in systems, innovation and, perhaps especially, consulting. When A.T. Kearney asked me to host a breakfast meeting of local Chicago executives, I asked Mir Aamir to help me put together a presentation on innovation that would highlight some of the advancements made in the auto and aerospace industries by our sister company, PLM (now Siemens PLM).

Prof. Willard I. Zangwill of the Graduate School of Business of the University of Chicago agreed to help us formulate ideas and the marketing staff did an outstanding job of organizing the event. Still, when the day arrived I just wasn't all that comfortable that we would have enough "new news" to satisfy the 30 or so people who were assembling, because it was clear that a number of astute innovators in their own rite had accepted our invitation.

We were about to deliver a lecture on how product lifecycle management technologies were enabling collaboration and knowledge-management among work groups that are distributed across far-flung enterprises. Instead, as coffee was being poured, we decided to turn the presentation into a collaborative work group. The discussion that followed was so rich and animated that it generated a much better white paper, "Mastering Innovation Management: Collaborating for Speed and Profit". (click to download the paper)

The panel agreed that the biggest challenge related to innovation is getting people to agree. Their recommendations:

  1. Focus on Priorities. Leaders in innovation begin with an intimate understanding of what their brands communicate, what needs they fill and what competitive niches they address. Paradoxically, they are able to sustain creativity by managing development through formal evaluation processes.
  2. Begin Collaboration Early. Collaboration solutions, such as wikis, enable organizations to share ideas globally, specifically, incrementally and immediately. Data capture becomes more critical, and more challenging, as businesses break products and processes down into modules to increase efficiency and boost flexibility.
  3. Link Key Parties. Top companies bring global research and development, engineering, manufacturing, sales and marketing and key suppliers into the design process. When companies focus on upstream prevention, rather than downstream enhancements they ensure they can actually deliver the innovative products they develop.

See "Making Agility an Ability", by Allan Alter, in the Fall edition of Innovations 2007

See also "Wikis While You Work", by Dave Greenfield in eWeek, November 26, 2007

See also: "Innovation, Communication and Leadership: New Developments in Strategic Communication", by Ansgar Zerfass and Simone Huck, International Journal in Strategic Communication 1(2), pp. 107-122

See also: The Frank Lloyd Wright legacy: an expensive taste in buildings on the Gabion website for an interesting account of the innovation challenge posed by an architect's unwillingness to collaborate. Fallingwater House, arguably Wright's most famous home design, was not structurally sound.

Contrast Wright's stubborn deification of personal style with the approach of Eero Saarinen, architect of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, pictured above. Saarinen was loved by his patrons and ridiculed by contemporary architectural critics, notably Vincent Scully of Yale, for refusing to elevate a signature style over functional design requirements.
See Saarinen Rising: a much-maligned modernist finally gets his due, by Clay Risen, The Boston Globe, November 7, 2004.

See also:
Building Respect at Yale, New York Times, December 16, 2007

See also our post, Best Practices in Architecture, for a fuller treatment of the approach of Eero Saarinen.

To learn more about our work in consulting, read about our Practice or check out our Case Studies

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Starbucks: A New Forum

The Ancient Forum of Rome

The Roman Forum, that ancient mall, was a locus of both ideas and commerce. Before there were licensing and private ownership of retail space and branded merchandise, those places where people congregated for the exchange of goods became places for the exchange of ideas.

If today's mall seems sterile by comparison with the old world shops of lower Manhattan, London or Lima, perhaps it is because the discourse of the market has been crowded out or shouted down by the clamour of the mass merchants.

From the genius of Howard Schultz came the vision of Starbucks (SBUX) as a "third place," a haven from both office and home, where people could come together to share a latte and a few words. This vision was not so much futuristic as nostalgic. He came upon it in an Italian espresso bar, that ubiquitous element of the streetscape where men stand to sip coffee by day and beer by night ("barista" is Italian for "bartender"). Sensing our longing for a few subversive minutes away from responsibility, he created a place where $3 could buy a consistently good cup of coffee and fifteen minutes of vacation.

So it is no accident that a Starbucks store has almost no advertising. Just as white space draws attention to the words on the page, so does a muted environment promote respite and the free flow of ideas.

The place speaks for itself. Its message seems amplified because it is understated and authentic.

See Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, by Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang

Schultz fears that stores are losing their authentic aroma and the brand is losing some of its unique charm. See this BBC video clip: Starbucks Plans 20,000 shops.

For other posts related to Starbucks, Authenticity, Retail Lifecycle Management (RLM), and other topics of interest, click the links on Index of Content on This Site in the border column to the right of these posts.

January, 2008 update.
Note that Howard Schultz is back behind the counter. See this press release and a Letter to Shareholders.

February, 2008 update. See our more recent post, Too Many Starbucks?
See also our post Design is Destiny about the challenge of designing an effective chain restaurant platform or format

To learn more about our work in consulting, read about our Practice or check out our Case Studies