Apple’s R&D portfolio strategy – “Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff” (Continued)

4 Mar 2012 Sandeep Mehta

I had been meaning to write about the article For the good of the company? Five Apple products Steve Jobs killed from Ars Technica:

When Steven P. Jobs returned to Apple 1997, he returned to a slew of ill-conceived product lines. Some were excessive, and some were downright silly, but many were ultimately killed off for their poor alignment with consumer needs and wants. Still, even with Jobs’ discerning eye, he wasn’t immune to having to deal with a few bad product decisions. 

We discussed the Jobs’ portfolio management methodology here. I had mentioned that it is hard to make the right decision about what is crap.  This prevents some leaders from making any decision at all.  The idea should be to find failures early before a significant investment has been made.  In fact, we should encourage some amount of risk taking in R&D organizations to ensure that we are somewhat pushing the boundaries.  The only way to ensure sufficient risks are taken is to see some projects fail and rewarding failure.  Even Steve Jobs occasionally made bad product decisions.  The only answer is to have a good risk management process in place to catch failures. We also want to make sure we learn something from each failure so we can improve decision making for the future. So, here is an example of a bad product decision by Jobs:

The Power Mac G4 Cube, a computer suspended in a clear plastic box, was designed by Jonathan Ive and released in July 2000. The Cube sported a 450MHz G4 processor, 20GB hard drive, and 64MB of RAM for $1,799, but no PCI slots or conventional audio outputs or inputs, favoring instead a USB amplifier and a set of Harman Kardon speakers. The machine was known in certain circles as Jobs’ baby.

While Apple hoped the computer would be a smash hit, few customers could see their way to buying the monitor-less Cube when the all-in-one iMac could be purchased for less, and a full-sized PowerMac G4 introduced a month later with the same specs could be had for $1,599. Apple attempted to re-price and re-spec the Cube in the following months, but Jobs ended up murdering one of his own darlings, suspending production of the model exactly one year after its release. While the Cube’s design is still revered (it’s part of the MoMA’s collection), it proved consumers won’t buy a product for its design alone.

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