Preston Smith's Corner

Book Review: Product Juggernauts: How Companies Mobilize to Generate a Stream of Market Winners

Jean-Philippe Deschamps and P. Ranganath Nayak, (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1995), $29.95

Not long ago, companies considered product development a normal part of operations, managed by technical specialists, but otherwise no more compelling than managing accounts payable. Development was normally equated with R&D; top managers would say, “That is handled by our vice president of engineering.” Today, leading companies consider their new-products capability to be a core competence, far too important to be trusted to a department of technical wizards. For them, development capability is the key to growth, even to survival.

This is a book about companies that take product development very seriously, and it presumes to tell us how they do it. Both authors are senior executives with Arthur D. Little. They have abundant experience in global technology management and the considerable resources to research and write this lengthy volume.

A key point appears in the subtitle: the measure of goodness in the discipline of product development is not an occasional bright star but a continuing flow of successes. 3M, for example, is not a master at innovation due to Post-Its, but because of the ancestors and offspring of Post-Its. The requirement is to build a mill that can churn out profitable products ceaselessly.

The core of the book is Chapters 3 through 7, and Chapter 9. Each of these chapters features a story of a company that is a master at a critical element of new-products success. Deschamps and Nayak tell the story and then explain the management principles they believe relate to this success. Unfortunately, the principles do not relate closely to the featured company. Thus, although the principles may be quite valid, they do not come across as essential tools. For example, Chapter 3 features Rubbermaid, and the capability featured is fomenting a customer revolution. However, in explaining Rubbermaid’s approach, there are examples from 22 other companies, some as remote from Rubbermaid’s business as Boeing, Bell Laboratories, and Mercedes-Benz.

Another featured company is Canon (Chapter 4), whose personal copier business illustrates the value of a company vision and product strategy. Toshiba’s medical ultrasound business (Chapter 5) shows how a clear but not burdensome development process contributes to success. Honda’s NSX sports car project (Chapter 6) emphasizes the importance of a strong program manager. Ford provides an example of dedicated development teams for its 1994 Mustang (Chapter 7). Chapter 9 covers the techniques of rapid product development, using a Philips television project as the example. In case you are wondering about Chapter 8, it treats the critical element of marshaling resources, for which the authors apparently could find no company to serve as an example of best practices.

Overall, the book provides a broad survey of contemporary best practices in product development. A surprising omission is lack of any mention of the excellent Arthur D. Little book on technology strategy, Third Generation R&D (Roussel, Saad, and Erickson, Harvard Business School Press; 1991), which would fit very nicely into Chapter 4.

Another weakness is its length (485 pages). A product development consultant could learn from the book, as I did, but will have to skim many pages to find the nuggets. The whole book will be of value to management consultants who want to understand modern product-innovation practices. Others might consider some alternatives. For those primarily interested in the stories, Nayak’s other book, Breakthroughs! (Pfeiffer; 1994) is packed with them in a most readable style. Those looking for management tools should consider Revolutionizing Product Development by Wheelwright and Clark (Free Press; 1992) or its executive version, Leading Product Development (1995). Another option is Developing Products in Half the Time (myself and Reinertsen, Van Nostrand Reinhold; 1995).

Reviewed by Preston G. Smith CMC

(Reviewed in the Journal of Management Consulting — now renamed to Consulting to Management, May 1996, pp. 69-70.)

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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