When Goodyear rolled out the Assurance product line in February to dealers, they witnessed the culmination of the fastest product development schedule in Goodyear history.
Tasked in late 2002 with developing a new ``signature'' product that would excite consumers, dealers and investors alike in time for the firm's 2004 annual dealer meeting, Goodyear's research and development team was faced with cutting the normal concept-to-market development curve of 24 months in half, according to Samuel P. Landers, a Research & Development Fellow who was part of the Assurance development team.
In developing the tire, change, not business as usual, was the objective, Jon Rich, president of the firm's North American tire unit, told employees. And that's how Mr. Landers and a team of innovative Goodyear engineers and scientists approached the project, he said in a presentation at the recent International Tire Exhibition and Conference in Akron.
The group put in place new strategies as members were executing the project; ``missteps occurred and corrections were made on the fly,'' said Mr. Landers, manager of Goodyear's Future Technology Development group in its Product/Technology Platforms department. Mr. Landers has been issued 50 patents in his 35 years with Goodyear.
In addition to embracing change, several strategies were keys to the project's success, he said, including:
* Working in parallel instead of in series. ``Communication is the key to learning together,'' because everyone needs to openly give a best guess at any point during the project. In the early stages things will change as the team learns and gains new insights. ``Regular, open, face-to-face communication meetings and flexibility are key to employing this strategy.''
Goodyear actually had two design teams working in parallel, an initial concept team and a back-up unit. The lead team was very aggressive in pursuing new concepts. The second team followed and anticipated potential weaknesses in the first unit's strategy and came up with preemptive corrective action programs, Mr. Landers said. This minimized the risk and shortened the cycle time.
* Orchestrating and empowering a cross-functional team. While the initial team was made of innovators who were creative, curious and risk-takers, a group of protector types-those more highly structured and detail oriented who are driven to create order and minimize risk-was needed toward the end of the project to handle the final validation and standardization stages. Together they form a cross-functional team.
* Accelerated ``ideation'' and uncertainty management. When the project was launched, an ideation team, featuring a dozen innovative types, was formed, and over a four-week span members generated ideas that were posted. By the third week, each member was given a minute to present his or her best product idea to a panel of judges.
``We started with the `fuzzy' situation of almost total uncertainty, diverged to many possible product concepts, and then systematically gathered data and made decisions until we converged on a final complete definition. Controlled convergence was how we managed uncertainty and kept the decision making on schedule,'' Mr. Landers said.
* Fast and adaptable learning tools. Fast data-generating tools that are easily adapted are needed, as are skilled people available on short notice. A project must have top priority for that to happen in most companies.
For a project like this to work, traditional concepts, including working in a series, have to be tossed aside because, as Mr. Landers admitted, ``leading-edge, innovative projects do not make up the majority of the efforts in a traditional, manufacturing-based company such as Goodyear.''
Likening the team's work to rubbing a magic lamp, Mr. Landers said, ``Our magical lamp is innovation, and innovation means change. An important key to innovation is acceptance (of) or even a desire for change. Most organizations are designed for control and efficiency. Deviations from standards are to be eliminated. Surprises are to be minimized.
``At the core of innovation is always a surprise,'' he continued, ``something that was not previously realized or expected. Innovation will be naturally suppressed unless it is specifically included in the product vision statement and strategy.''
The project's first task was to identify and select the product's features and benefits, a task undertaken jointly by market research and tire technology. ``Market research determines what customers want and technology determines what can be done,'' said Mr. Landers, only the fifth R&D Fellow in company history. ``To be successful, both conditions must be satisfied at the same time. Like a guided missile, the technology effort underwent constant correction in direction through continual feedback from the customer and market research.''
Along the way from concept to final product, Goodyear tapped into some computer-modeling tools that were still in the early stages of implementation. The first attempt to integrate these tools into the project failed, however, because they had been programmed to incorporate only known design configurations, Mr. Landers said.
The computer modelers went back to the drawing board and within a month had made the necessary modifications, Mr. Landers. ``True innovations seem to cause a domino effect of other innovations that are required to support the first.''
As a result of the Assurance project, the firm has had a big payoff and some unexpected benefits, including process innovations and design tools along with techniques to support the innovations, Mr. Landers said.
``The project was also a catalyst for accelerated innovations in the materials and manufacturing areas,'' he said. ``Even the way we used market research and how teams worked together will definitely influence all our future projects.''