Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Moving Technologies from Lab to Market; Product Champions Need More Than Charisma to Bridge the Gap between Discovery and Commercialization-They Need to Successfully Carry out Nine Discrete Though Complex Activities

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Moving Technologies from Lab to Market; Product Champions Need More Than Charisma to Bridge the Gap between Discovery and Commercialization-They Need to Successfully Carry out Nine Discrete Though Complex Activities

Article excerpt

No one wakes up in the morning deciding to be a product champion. Universities do not award degrees to champions; firms generally do not hire someone to be a champion, nor do they establish official "Champion" positions. Although the role of champion is well known in new product development (1-4), a champion's real contribution is often made outside the formal NPD process. Some observers have even argued that a project dies without a champion (5).

Champions emerge suddenly, according to no apparent pattern, as voluntary, informal leaders determined to promote a particular project because they have become convinced that it is important for the organization (6-8). Without official power or responsibility, they take risks beyond what would be expected of someone in their position in order to influence others to support "their" project and help move it forward, outside the formal development processes if necessary (9-10).

This involves working closely with teams or, if no team exists, gaining the voluntary cooperation of enough people with the necessary expertise. If a team is already in place, the champion must adapt his or her style to fit the team's style if he hopes to influence it. But regardless of the team's genesis, the champion must provide it with vision and direction, secure new resources or protect existing ones, and help the team to network throughout the organization (11).

However, champions must do much more than offer enthusiasm and foresight--they must possess the skills necessary to cross a developing product's "Valley of Death." These skills and how champions can develop them are the focus of this article.

Understanding the Valley of Death

The Valley of Death is the gap between the technical invention or market recognition of an idea and the efforts to commercialize it (Figure 1). Most companies have the resources, personnel and organizational structure necessary for technology development (12,13). These components are present on the left side of the valley. Similarly, most companies possess the resources for such commercialization activities as marketing, sales, promotion, production, and distribution, which appear on the right side of the valley. The Valley of Death between discovery and commercialization thus represents a lack of structure, resources and expertise. It is the champion's role to drive projects across this valley.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

There are several explanations for the Valley of Death. Technical personnel (left side) often do not understand the concerns of commercialization personnel (right side) and vice versa. The cultural gap between these groups manifests itself in the results prized by one side and devalued by the other. Networking and contract management, for example, may be important to sales people but seen as shallow and self-aggrandizing by technical people. Also, both sides often have different objectives and reward structures; technical people find value in discovery and pushing the frontiers of knowledge, while commercialization people need a product to sell and often consider the value of discovery as theoretical and useless. Both technical and commercialization people need help translating research findings into superior product offerings.

Crossing the Valley of Death requires champions, resources and formal development processes. Often, the champion's role and the need for resources are unclear and interact in an ad hoc fashion. Typically, the champion approaches the person who has a needed resource, presents a vision of the opportunity, and informally asks for help. For example, a new diagnostic test to predict the onset of Type 2 diabetes may require a specific chemical reaction to be demonstrated before anyone will take the project seriously. The champion seeks the necessary lab time, chemicals and personnel to demonstrate the reaction, and if the demonstration is successful, seeks to have the project adopted into the formal development process. …

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