Managing the New Technology Exploitation Process: Operating between New Product Development and Pure Science, NTE Has the Characteristics of Each along with Some Important Differences

By Bigwood, Michael P. | Research-Technology Management, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Managing the New Technology Exploitation Process: Operating between New Product Development and Pure Science, NTE Has the Characteristics of Each along with Some Important Differences


Bigwood, Michael P., Research-Technology Management


New product development (NPD) and scientific research are two distract areas of activity and each has its own mode of operation. New technology exploitation (NTE), on the other hand, lies in a gray area between NPD and pure science, borrowing from the former the intent to produce something useful while exploiting the basic principles uncovered by the latter. In this article, after a brief discussion of the tools and methodologies specific to NPD and basic research, respectively, I will define what I mean by NTE, review recent publications relating to it and explore further what is unique about that particular activity, and how to manage it effectively.

New Product Development and Basic Research

The Stage-Gate model of new product development, originally described by Cooper (1) has by now been widely adopted. It consists of six phases (ideation, preliminary investigation, detailed investigation, development, testing and validation, and finally production and launch) separated by gates, or review and decision points. As a product moves from idea to commercialization, the Stage-Gate model achieves two primary functions: it provides parallel processing of all the elements impacting on the development of the product (technology, manufacturing, market, etc.), while ensuring a gradual increase in the project's probability of success as one moves to later stages and larger amounts of capital are committed. The Stage-Gate methodology for NPD is essentially a once-through, linear process with a well-defined pathway and specific points where rational decisions to continue or abandon a project, based on pre-defined criteria, can be made.

Although technology has an impact on an NPD project, particularly at the preliminary investigation and development phases, the outcome of the process is usually quite predictable. The initial product idea can be simple, sometimes so obvious that we wonder, "'Why didn't I think of that!" Examples of such ideas are the little tabs that allow one to remove the aluminum foil sealing the opening of containers, or the integration of a child seat in the back of a car. At the other extreme, the new product idea can be complex, requiring perhaps the interactive action of multiple electronic components or sophisticated computer programming techniques. But in all cases, the outcome is usually straightforward and predictable, because it is based on the well-known performance characteristics of the elements involved. Most of the uncertainty associated with these projects lies not with the technology's ability to deliver a given level of performance but with the reception of the product in the marketplace.

In certain ways, the scientific method is just the opposite of the NPD process. To begin with, the desired outcome of the exercise is not a physical product or even an improved level of performance, but rather a better understanding of the fundamental laws that govern a process. As a result, unlike what happens in the NPD process, a "failed" experiment--that is, an experiment whose results are not those expected based on the current working hypothesis--is just as valuable as a "successful" one. In the latter case, the hypothesis is confirmed; in the former, it needs to be modified to describe the real world, but either way, the theoretical description of a phenomenon has progressed. In other words, basic research operates in an iterative mode, through successive cycles of hypothesis development, testing and revision. The process ends when theory accurately predicts all known facts--and starts again when a new observation emerges that does not fit the model.

The very notion of "success," therefore, takes on a different meaning when dealing with NPD or scientific research. Again, from a technology perspective--as opposed to a commercial point of view--the successful development of a new product is defined by achieving a pre-defined level of performance within a certain period of time. …

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