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Managing Technological Diversity

Case Aims: To illustrate how a complex high-tech organisation may seek to achieve structure and order within the innovation process.

Boeing Corporation is a highly diversified company engaged in areas that include (1) commercial aircraft, products and services, (2) defence products such as military aircraft and missiles, (3) space products such as satellites and launch vehicles, and (4) a growing array of advanced networked system products for both commercial and defence applications. This diversity of products and services relies upon the sustained exploitation of innovation across a widening array of technologies. An enterprise such as Boeing usually requires the existence of a framework for managing innovation across many areas in a manner that is focused and connected, without hindering creativity. Hence the company has sought to avoid a personality-driven approach to research management, because this may result in a R&D portfolio based on an individual's preferences and hunches rather than providing the basis for a systematic view of the whole company and its opportunities (Lind 2006).

A key element in the Boeing's innovation management system is Phantom Works, the company's central research organisation. This group has developed and led the deployment of the firm's Global Enterprise Technology System. The company has identified certain key objectives which underpin decisions concerning current and future innovation portfolios. These include projects required to:

  • 1. Be highly collaborative, drawing many types of participants together in the innovation process.
  • 2. Be systematic, applying systems engineering principles and process concepts.
  • 3. Have lean-enabling enterprise-level R&D to respond effectively and efficiently on Boeing business needs.
  • 4. Be continuous, enabling management of the portfolio in response to changes in company needs and opportunities as they arise.
  • 5. Be traceable, ensuring clear linkage of R&D efforts to business needs.
  • 6. Promote a high level of innovation, experimentation and discovery.
  • 7. Enable longer-term R&D to be properly related to near-term R&D.
  • 8. Draw appropriately from external and global R &D sources such as labs, universities and other companies.
  • 9. Manage complexity in a fashion that enables participants to know what they need to know, when they need to know it, without being overwhelmed with details they do not need.
  • 10. Be simple and clear, allowing people to quickly see how they can contribute and collaborate with others.

(continued)

Managing a large multibusiness enterprise involves a level of complexity that can be a challenge in relation to fostering crossenterprise activities. To bridge the diversity in the company whilst enhancing innovation the Phantom Works group has led Boeing to develop the following process model.

  • 1. R&D Process Needs Assessment based upon a generic model of technology and product development management to be used as a guide to establishing R&D management processes.
  • 2. Process Development Workshops, which shape the initial process for defining the central innovation portfolio. From this dialogue, a preliminary process management plan can be defined and populated with appropriate methodologies.
  • 3. Formalised Inspection Phase, involving a broad-based formal review of defined processes, bringing together key process stakeholders such as product and technology development teams within the organisation. A key benefit of the formal inspection process is that it educates various stakeholders about the contrasting needs of others and captures solutions that, from the outset, include consideration of the entire innovation system.
  • 4. Process Extension, in which the same generic process model used to develop the original process can also be used to facilitate the extension of the process in new ways to cover different areas of the business, such as external R&D relationships.
 
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