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Creating products in the absence of markets: a robust design approach

Philippe Silberzahn (Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France)
Christophe Midler (Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France)

Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

ISSN: 1741-038X

Article publication date: 14 March 2008




The purpose of this study is to examine how firms deal with a situation of true uncertainty about their potential markets and technologies. Specifically, it asks how firms can create products when the corresponding market does not exist.


This paper is based on a longitudinal study of a high‐tech firm, combined with analysis of existing theory in product design and entrepreneurship.


Markets and products are usually a defining choice made early on by firms in their strategic process. Such a choice guides their development by providing a “stable concept” to which decisions can be related. When markets do not exist yet, however, this approach is not effective. Early choice of products and markets limits firms' flexibility by constraining their ability and willingness to adapt, while fundamental new technical and market information is likely to emerge during the project that will prove the initial assumptions wrong. The paper shows an alternative approach where products and markets actually result from a generic process of products and markets exploration driven by the firm. It is suggested that this approach forms a robust design in that it allows the firm to deal with the uncertainty by simultaneously developing its products and exploring markets, while preserving the flexibility to adapt to the changing environment.

Practical implications

The practical implication of this paper is to suggest an alternative approach to deliberate planning in high‐tech ventures. With this approach, rather than markets and products, strategy defines a market and technology exploration process.


The paper is original in three ways. It links the product design and market exploration processes in high‐tech firm development; it is based on an in‐depth longitudinal study; and it results from an academic‐practitioner collaborative work.



Silberzahn, P. and Midler, C. (2008), "Creating products in the absence of markets: a robust design approach", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 407-420.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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