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Speed Demons – Innovating in a Flash

Speed is emerging as the ultimate competitive weapon, reports the latest cover story in the BusinessWeek magazine.

According to the article some of the world’s most successful companies are proving to be expert at spotting new opportunities, marshalling their forces, and bringing to market new products or services in a flash.

The article investigates how smart companies are creating new products — and whole new businesses — almost overnight. This pace is picking up across such industries as retailing, consumer goods, software, electronics, autos, and medical devices. In many cases, the time it takes to bring a product to market has been cut in half during the past three or four years. At Nissan Motor Co. the development of new cars used to take 21 months. Now, the company is shifting to a 10 1/2-month process. In the cell-phone business, Nokia, Motorola, and others used to take 12 to 18 months to develop basic models. Today: Six to nine months.

Today, a slew of new techniques make it possible to get things done much faster:

* Global outsourcing. A vast network of suppliers around the world stands ready to do everything from manufacturing products to drawing up legal contracts. This helps companies create supply chains that are faster, more flexible, and more efficient than ever before.

* Technology. The Internet has become ubiquitous, so companies can connect with talent anywhere in the blink of an eye, inside or outside the company. Open-source software can be plucked off the shelf to become the foundation of new software programs or Web sites. Algorithms can be used to slice and dice market information and spot new trends.

* A new management approach that considers failures as benefits rather than as disadvantages.”It’s not just O.K. to fail; it’s imperative to fail”, says Seth Godin, a marketing expert and author of several books, including Unleashing the Ideavirus.

The BusinessWeek also identifies five new techniques that are used by the world’s most successful companies in order to help them break their old product-development habits:

Find new ways to spot hits
Focus groups and market research aren’t enough. So companies are trying new methods to bridge the gap between what technology has come up with and what consumers will want to buy.
Launch with agile teams
Large companies should begin new initiatives with small teams and build “fences” around them—so they won’t get tangled in red tape. Entrepreneurial outfits are agile by nature.
Break your unwritten rules
It’s the invisible ties that often slow down innovation. And breaking through those bonds is tough. Try brainstorming off-site or with outsiders who are able to provoke fresh thinking.
Outsource tasks to specialists
Design and manufacturing outsourcers don’t just do things more cheaply; they do them better and faster. Using standard technologies and components, they cut development time in half.
When you have it right, repeat
Once a new product or business has succeeded in the market, don’t reinvent the wheel. Look for ways to use the same technology or business model again and again in additional markets.