Archive for 'October 2011'
HereÃ¢ÂÂs my last blog post Ã¢ÂÂ for now Ã¢ÂÂ in my series of recent posts on creating enduring products:
Lesson: Make sure that first bite isnÃ¢ÂÂt more than you can chew.
IÃ¢ÂÂll tell you something we donÃ¢ÂÂt necessarily broadcast to the outside world: the first two product concepts for our very successful Model 4200-SCS platform, which were based in part on input from customer focus groups, didnÃ¢ÂÂt receive top management approval. Quite simply, their scope was too large to succeed in a reasonable timeÃ¢ÂÂit was just too big of a bite. Despite the undeniable value of their insights, customers in focus groups often have no concept of what it takes to bring a sophisticated system of this type to market.
During concept development, itÃ¢ÂÂs critical to invest your energy in making sure you have a complete and compelling narrative to present to top management and that itÃ¢ÂÂs presented in such a way that they can readily see how it will be carried through to completion. The development teamÃ¢ÂÂs early mistake was thinking about it like engineers (the Ã¢ÂÂcoolnessÃ¢ÂÂ and technology of the measurements involved) rather than like top managers (is this a do-able product in a reasonable timeframe?).
The development team spent a lot of time Ã¢ÂÂdescopingÃ¢ÂÂ the project, whittling it down to a manageable level of technical risk. However, what finally convinced top managers that the Model 4200-SCS represented a viable product concept was our technical and marketing people taking them on the road with them. The conversation took place between KeithleyÃ¢ÂÂs technical people and the people who would actually be using the productÃ¢ÂÂtop management was a Ã¢ÂÂfly on the wall,Ã¢ÂÂ silently absorbing what the lab managers needed and wanted from a product of this type. Over the years, weÃ¢ÂÂve often found that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting between management and customers for communicating the potential of a new product.
When I wrote earlier blog posts about creating enduring product ideas, I thought about it in general terms. But when I began thinking about creating products in the semiconductor industry in particular, I realized it takes special, shall we say, fortitude to be a product developer in this sector.
Lesson: If youÃ¢ÂÂre developing solutions for a cyclical industry like the semiconductor industry, be prepared to be persistent through its ups and downs.
In a traditional business model, R&D spending is based on the revenues a product is producing; that means too many companies tend to cut back on their development investments when thereÃ¢ÂÂs an industry downturn. However, companies that abruptly turn off the Ã¢ÂÂmoney spigotÃ¢ÂÂ when thereÃ¢ÂÂs a cyclical downturn simply arenÃ¢ÂÂt in a position to profit from the next market upturn when it arrives. Still worse, theyÃ¢ÂÂve lost credibility with their customers by not being prepared to address their new needs.
One of the things Keithley does, in addition to long-term planning, is to focus on short-term, fast-response projects, so that when we spot an industry trend, such as organic solar cells, that requires specific measurement capabilities, we can address that opportunity very quickly.