Products and Processes

This can apply to products or processes in both cases. The key characteristics become stabilized and experimentation moves to getting the bugs out and refining the dominant design. For example the nineteenth century chemical moved from making soda ash (as essential ingredient in making soap, glass and a host of other products) from the earliest days where it was produced by burning vegetable matter through to a sophisticated chemical reaction which was carried out on a batch process (the Leblanc process) which was one of the drivers of the industrial revolution. This process dominated for nearly a century but was in turn replaced by a new generation of continuous processes which used electrolytic techniques and which originated in Belgium where they were developed by the Solvay brothers. Moving to the Leblanc process or the Solvay process did not happen overnight; it took decades of work to refine and improve each process and to fully understand the chemistry and engineering required to get consistent high quality and output

The same pattern can be seen products. For example, the original design for a camera something which goes back to the early nineteenth century and a visit to any science museum will show the process involved all sorts of ingenious solutions. The dominant design gradually emerged with an architecture which we would recognize shutter and lens arrangements focusing principles, back plate for film or plates. But this design was then modified still further – for example with different lenses motorized drives, flash technology and in the case of George Eastman’s work. Creating a simple and relatively idiot proof model camera (the Box Brownie) which opened up photography to a mass market. More recent development has been a similar fluid phase around digital imaging devices.

The period in which the dominant design emerges and emphasis shifts to imitation and development around it is termed the translational phase in the Abernathy and Utterback model. Activities move from radical concept developments to more focused effort geared around product differentiation and to delivering it reliably, cheaply with higher quality extended functionally etc.

As the concept matures still further so incremental innovation becomes more significant and emphasis shifts to factors like cost – which mean efforts within the industries which grow up around these product areas tend to focus increasingly on rationalization on scale economies and on process innovation to drive out cost and improve productivity. Product innovation is increasingly about differentiation through customization to meet the particular needs of specific users.

Finally, the stage is set for change –the scope for innovations becomes smaller and smaller whilst outside – for example, in the laboratories and imaginations of research scientists – new possibilities are emerging. Eventually a new technology emerges which has the potential to challenge all the by now well established rules – and the game is disrupted. In camera case, for example this is happening with the advent of digital photography which is having an impact on cameras and the overall service package around how we get to keep and share our photographs. In our chemical case this is happening with biotechnology and the emergence of the possibility of no longer needing giant chemical plants but instead moving to small scale operations using live organisms genetically engineered to produce what we need.

Although originally developed for manufactured products the model also works from services – for example the early days of Internet banking were characterized by a typically fluid phase with many options and models being offered. This gradually moved to a transitional phase, building a dominant design consensus on the package of services offered the levels and nature of security and privacy support, the interactivity of website etc., the fields has now become mature with much of competition shifting to marginal issues like relative interest rates.