Blockbusters: The Five Keys to Developing Great New Products

Ronald E. Goldsmith (Richard M. Baker Professor of Marketing, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)

Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management

ISSN: 1361-2026

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



Goldsmith, R.E. (2004), "Blockbusters: The Five Keys to Developing Great New Products", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 350-351.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Gary Lynn and Richard Reilly, professors at the Stevens Institute of Technology, spent ten years studying new product development in over 700 companies. This book is the result of their study. Based on corporate documents, interviews with managers and engineers, and statistical analysis of a database, their book provides a set of guidelines for companies seeking to develop breakthrough products that change markets and industries. Lynn and Reilly studied products ranging from packaged goods to high technology systems for NASA, seeking commonalities among the winning companies. As is typical of this type of book, they summarize their findings in the form of critical practices (five of them) that others can adopt to also succeed. Thus, their recommendations are clearly a benchmarking activity where they believe they have identified the most successful benchmarks to use.

The authors begin with an overview of the five critical practices they identified leading to blockbuster new product success. Throughout, the authors provide a variety of interesting and enlightening examples to illustrate their key practices. If you ever wondered about the origin of some of the products we use commonly, you will find this a compelling narrative. The authors make good use of the personal accounts they have gathered to show how the new product development process works in many companies.

The seminal story is how development of the Zip drive saved the Iomega Company. This account orients the reader to the key issues addressed by the book, illustrating through example the nature and importance of the practices. Subsequent chapters are devoted to each of the authors’ five specific recommendations or critical practices, again using illustrations drawn from a central new product development story.

The first principle is that the highest levels of management must be committed to the development of the blockbuster new product. Managers must completely support the project and give the new product development (NPD) team the authority to escape the bureaucratic hindrances of the larger organization. This principle is illustrated through the development by Colgate‐Palmolive of Total toothpaste.

The second principle is to begin the project with a clear and stable vision of the product (what it will and won't be) and its consumer benefits. Lynn and Reilly refer to this principle as “project pillars,” arguing that the NPD team must have clearly articulated goals. Their key example of this principle is the development of the first truly usable conference phone, the SoundStation by a startup company, Pollycom. It is not surprising to learn that successful new products such as this come from a vision emphasizing both the need for the new product and an extensive effort to collect information from both customers and competitors. Getting customer input is a vital element in new‐product success, and these stories about how successful managers do this make interesting reading.

Principle number three is termed “improvisation.” In the words of Lynn and Reilly, the path to market is described as “Lickety Stick.” By this they mean that the NPD team must be flexible and try a large variety of ideas in rapid succession. Less attention should be paid to perfecting a prototype and more emphasis placed on customer input after exposure to good enough prototype versions. Getting a lot of customer input all along the way is crucial.

Blockbuster teams appear to excel in exchanging information. This principle emphasizes sharing knowledge in both formal and informal ways among all participants in the NPD process. Development of the Apple IIe is the key story here. Although this new product was developed by a large team and the process involved a great deal of informal information exchange, careful record keeping also facilitated final success.

The final principle is termed “collaboration under pressure.” By describing the development of the Handspring Visor, Lynn and Reilly show how the members of a NPD team do not have to like each other especially, but they do have to cooperate. The significance of a hard deadline is emphasized, as is the concept of “buy‐in.” They also make the point that implementing the previous four critical practices enhances teamwork.

Lynn and Reilly provide an additional recommendation based on their statistical analysis of their data. This is that all five critical practices must be implemented simultaneously. A company that fails to implement all five stands a much higher chance of failure than a company that does implement all five. There is an additional discussion of “radical innovation,” in which customer input is difficult to collect because customers have no idea of what the new product is. The example here is Corning Fibers' development of optical fiber technology.

The book concludes with specific recommendations to management, guiding them on the implementation of all five practices, and there is an appendix containing a case study to help managers develop measures of team performance.

Overall the book is simply and clearly written and is easy to read. The authors make good use of their anecdotes as well as their statistical analysis. This is a very no‐nonsense account of a topic that attracts a great deal of interest but for which there are few systematic studies. Blockbusters can be recommended to any reader wishing to learn more about how radical new products are developed. While intended for managers and NPD teams, it could serve as a supplemental text for a course in NPD or even as a stimulus to discussion in MBA classes. Endnotes provide key documentation, and the index is useful. Overall Lynn and Reilly have succeeded in their goal of explaining how radical new products are developed. Researchers in this field should continue to test their hypotheses, thereby deepening our understanding of this vital business practice.

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