The Valley of Death in Product Innovation

8 Nov 2010 Sandeep Mehta

Journal of Product Innovation Management has a great article on The Valley of Death as Context for Role Theory in Product Innovation:

The Valley of Death is used as a metaphor to describe the relative lack of resources and expertise in this area of development. The metaphor suggests that there are relative more resources on one side of the valley in the form of research expertise and on the other side by commercialization expertise and resources. Within this valley a set of interlocking roles are examined that move projects from one side to the other.

The idea is pretty clear: Companies acquire or generate innovation and then do not find a way to nurture it to the stage that it delivers results.  The underlying problem is that existing product lines and culture rejects home grown innovation.  The innovation accessed from the outside (open innovation) is rejected because of the traditional “Not Invented Here” problem.  The authors provide empirical evident to support these conclusions after studying 272 PDMA members.

“The data also support the roles of champion, sponsor, and gatekeeper as major actors that work together to develop and promote projects for introduction into the formal process. Champions make the organization aware of opportunities by conceptualizing the idea and preparing business cases. Sponsors support the development of promising ideas by providing resources to demonstrate the project’s viability. Gatekeepers set criteria and make acceptance decisions. The data also reveal a dynamic interdependence between role players. It is concluded that the Valley of Death is a productive tool for identifying and understanding a critical area of development that has not been adequately addressed”

This research finds a dynamic interplay between roles to accomplish tasks that are not well understood in practice or the literature. The implications of this research are far-ranging. It suggests that companies must understand the challenges in the valley, must develop the skills, and must make resources available to master the front end of product innovation. Recognizing roles, providing resources, and establishing expectations and accountability in this area of development become manageable in light of these results. Theoretically, this research informs role theory of a dynamic set of relationships previously treated as static. It also empirically investigates an area of product development where there is limited data. This paper opens profitable inquiries by focusing on an area of development not adequately researched yet drives the activities and investment made in subsequent steps of product development.

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