Social Computing For Product Development

Over the last few years, I think most would agree that leading product development organizations have gotten much savvier about designers collaborating with internal stakeholders – such as manufacturing, sales, and marketing – to harness contributions and feedback from more business perspectives, get the product right the first time, and ultimately better transform technical inventions into market-relevant innovations. What’s really interesting is that, over this same period, the social Web – which Forrester calls Social Computing and includes peer-to-peer activities like social networking sites, blogging, user review sites, wikis, podcasts, and other user-generated content – has steadily grown in popularity among consumers as well as expanded its presence among manufacturing enterprises. The question is, will these new technologies and corresponding social trends make their way into product development organizations and – once again – transform the way leading product development teams collaborate to bring great products into the marketplace?

In short, I think so. The fact is, the increased prevalence of Social Computing presents product development with some compelling new capabilities:

  • Enabling established teams to better collaborate across distance or silos. The distributed nature of Social Computing tools – along with the relative speed by which they can be rolled out – enables development teams sitting in different sites or organizations to quickly convey more design ideas, intent, and context than the standard use of email, instant messaging, or teleconference calls.
  • Tapping outside communities for product ideas, answers, and feedback. Social networking sites now enable product development teams to connect with a new, broader set of outside perspectives, which can help thwart thorny design problems or, more strategically, enrich the quality of the development effort by engaging communities within the target audience of their new product or service to elicit early feedback on features or messages.  
  • Integrating compelling new services to traditional product offerings. As manufacturers in industries like automotive and consumer electronics embed more and more software into their products to enable sophisticated features and higher-end functionality, connecting these smart products via the “extended internet” paves the way for savvy product development teams to incorporate compelling peer-to-peer services built around their product platforms.

Of course, implementing these social product development capabilities is much easier said than done. In my research, I’ve heard manufacturers raise issues spanning IP security; the practicality of managing/using all this new, predominantly unstructured information; the fuzzy business case; etc. So, in order to take advantage of these Social Computing innovations yet overcome these realities, I think a new technology landscape will emerge that includes both traditional PLM applications as well as many new platform partners and startup players that help solve pertinent, last-mile challenges specific to product development. We’re already seeing this today, with PLM leaders like PTC and Siemens PLM investing in further partnerships with Microsoft to interweave human-centric processes like design reviews and engineering change requests with the social community features of SharePoint. Additionally, I’m seeing startup companies like Attensity getting attention for their ability to filter social channels using native-language heuristics and reformulate public commentary into more actionable, logically organized product requirements.  Or, maybe you’ve hit a snag with a sticky technical design problem, and you’ve already searched internally for help and come up dry – here’s where solution community sites like InnoCentive or Hypios are helping product teams leverage outside experts to find answers while still protecting company trade secrets. Or maybe your portal-based ideation process is running a bit stale of late – a quick drive on Spigi or Cambrian House’s website shows how bringing outside, diverse opinions together into focused communities can help you tap a new "suggestion box on steroids."

That’s my take on this whole hot topic of “Social Product Development,” but what are you seeing in your organizations? I look forward to your comments and feedback!


Social Product Development

Hi Roy! Thanks for passing along the link! I agree wholeheartedly with your comments (especially that part where you mention PTC) - I've added a few additional thoughts on the impact of social computing on collaboration on the PTC blog: I'd love to hear what you think - especially about my MadLibs reference... Looking forward to reading more from you!

Good read Erin. Thanks for

Good read Erin. Thanks for the feedback. To be sure, the capability to quickly tap an extended network of experts that can provide you with new ideas or answers is a big part of the Social Product Development potential -- particularly when you've exhausted all your known 'circles' and still need help. I think there is a really interesting analogy is in job hunting: if you're out of a job, you might start asking all your friends and family if they know of any good positions open. But because you all live in the same area, and tend to do the same things, you all have basically the same information on what good jobs (or lack thereof) are out there. Its only when you start networking outside your immediate circle -- and re-connect with that former colleague, or fellow university alumni, or what have you -- that you find new info. With Social Computing, you can make these extended connections MUCH easier and faster -- one of the real reasons I think professional networking sites like LinkedIn have grown in popularity over the last few years. It will be interesting to see how, in product development, how internal/external communities flourish to support similar "new info" needs.

Social Computing for product development

hello Roy

Thank you Roy for starting very interesting and relevant discussion.

We have customers who have implemented Teamcenter for "enabling established teams to better collaborate across distance or silos". I blogged very recently on Siemens PLM Software blog - - my interview with Jim Ayers from Northrop Grumman where he discusses how they use use social networking in their product development.

We agree that there are serious road blocks, like IP security, the ability to filter and leverage fuzzy information, and integrating unstructured ad-hoc collaboration information with structured information in PLM.

Some of our thinking on the subject is captured in the attached white paper.

We would love to hear your feedback.

Northrup Grumman Case Study

Hi Nik,
Your Northrup Grumman interview is a great read. I got a chance to hear Mr. Ayers speak about his use of social & other collaboration tools for product development on a webinar a few weeks back, and I really appreciated his insight on "learning different new uses [for these technologies] every day" (a point he further touches on in your interview). Like a lot of other collaboration tools, businesspeople/team members often need to experiment a bit with social before they can effectively know exactly how it can be used (and what additional support they may or may not need from IT to make it work). I believe this is why Jim also emphasizes getting users involved early and getting the right stake holder involved, e.g., to avoid the "blank stare" from the business and make sure the tool deployment activities are blended in a way that shares the learning and incorporates lots of feedback from folks with different responsibilities and/or locations across the product development organization.

Social Computing and Product Development

The analyzes of social computing for product development and engineering are very interesting. The one issue that, in my view, hugely undervalued is analyzing of customer data in the context of product development- Best, Oleg

Social Computing and Product Development

Hi Oleg,

Your blog on Social PLM and Customer Data is a great read - thanks for sharing. I wonder if the opportunity to integrate customer data with product development is really a story of savvier product personalization. If design teams had more detailed information about individual consumers, could they not start to tailor and/or modularize their product offerings to better match individual requirements? I could also see opportunities in ongoing services (vs. the actual product) vis-a-vis well-timed upgrades or trade-in offers that match individual customer's purchasing cycles.

Just my 2 cents,
- Roy


Huggies gets my award for the year, listening to their customers and now offering a reward for innovation.