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Leveraging on systemic learning to manage the early phases of product innovation projects

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A number of studies have pointed out the importance of the early phases of new product development projects. In fact, these phases (addressed in the literature with different names, such as pre-project activities, concept generation, product planning, idea generation, investigation, product definition) are concerned with a number of critical decisions that have great impact on the performance of product development. Any fault occurring in these early phases in understanding the market needs, in choosing the product architecture and technology and in defining the product specifications would eventually deteriorate the innovation process, since adjustments in later stages imply reworks that are costly and time consuming. Although the relevance of early project phases has been empirically verified in the literature, the mechanisms that allow these phases to be properly managed are still largely unexplored. This paper investigates the articulated and coherent set of methods, organizational mechanisms and behavioural patterns that successful companies adopt to manage concept generation and product planning. Inferences are based on a field research concerning 19 in-depth case studies of Italian and Swedish companies in the vehicles, helicopters and white goods industries. The paper supports findings of other studies concerning the importance of teamworking and communication. However, teamworking emerges as a necessary, but not a sufficient mechanism. Systemic learning from past experiences is the real keystone toward an effective management of the early phases of product development processes.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Dipartimento di Economia e Produzione, Politecnico di Milano, Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 32, 20133 Milano, Italy

Publication date: 1997-10-01

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