recently i've been interviewing at, and thinking a lot about, a handful of companies that are involved in new and interesting ways of delivering product (both physical and digital) to customers. in previous phases of my career, i've been intimately involved in both product development, customer relations, and physical manufacturing. but this is a largely outdated model. there's been a lot of innovation in the product development & delivery process recently (take Quirky, Kickstarter and Shapeways as easy examples), and it's certain that we haven't seen the end of this trend.
this excerpt from McKinsey's recent post about the Internet of Things and manufacturing sums much of it up:
Markus Löffler: With these radical changes looming, who has the best chance of controlling the profit pool—those with the production technology or those who own the assets?
Siegfried Dais: I would take a step back and ask, in the mind of the consumer, who represents the final product? The designer? The manufacturer? Or the person who created the contract with the customer for the final product?
Andreas Tschiesner: Right. This takes us into the field of contract manufacturing.
Siegfried Dais: Design companies have already separated design and production. They create products or solutions for customers but do not produce them; they simply provide the specifications to contract manufacturers, who then handle production. This trend of separating design and production will continue to spread across other industries and sectors.
this back and forth brings up a few really interesting questions. i tend to think that it's beneficial (to stakeholders, team members, and consumers/users alike) for the product development process to be undertaken by a cross-functional team. but there are undeniable positive effects from task specialization.
Quirky, Kickstarter and Shapeways have all taken different approaches to defining their role in the development process. as a consumer, i find Kickstarter to be the most appealing: i accept that they're just a platform, and put responsibility for the project's completion squarely on the creator. Quirky is a bit more confused to me. i have less experience with their products, but the ones i've used (their SOLO coat hanger) left much to be desired. and i blame Quirky - not the crowd from whom they sourced the design - for the failure. Shapeways' business model is confusing to me as well. i have used their services for prototyping (to great success), but have little interest in their product shopping experience.
with all of the talk about how 3d printing will revolutionize manufacturing, it's great to hear an intelligent conversation about how it's really advances in distributed, efficient product development & delivery (brought about by IoT, crowdsourcing technologies, and new manufacturing processes - including 3d printing) that will be most impactful.