3 Managing design and innovation

Rothwell (1992) talks of his eight characteristics for successful innovation as project execution or tactical variables. He distinguishes these from higher level strategic variables such as a corporate strategy which places innovation as a key priority. Although there could be well-organised innovation projects in firms that lacked a corporate strategy for innovation, it is better to have both. Ideally an innovation strategy should involve a long-term commitment to major projects that address company development.

In the following two readings, the focus is on design and innovation at the project execution level. These readings contain important lessons for how innovation and design is studied and the sorts of understanding sought in research projects. However, they will also show the need for a consideration of the higher-level understanding for this to be successful – for example by picking up Rothwell’s consideration of networking between companies.

I will shortly ask you to read an excerpt from the book Winning by Design (Walsh et. al 1992). This is from a chapter on Organising Design and Innovation. You should note that the reference in this reading to ‘Study B’ is to a survey of the design and development of new products in three UK sectors and successful foreign firms.

Unit 3 will introduce you to the role of organisations and institutions for policy making and technology strategy. But this reading provides some early insight into how the different approaches to the organisation of innovation can be conceptualised. You will work with the Walsh reading in two parts.

Activity 4

Read the extract below from ‘Organising Design and Innovation’ (Walsh et al, 1992).

  1. How does this reading relate to Rothwell’s ‘Characteristics of Successful Innovation’?
  2. What sort of information would you need to obtain from an organisation in order to say what type of project organisation structure they used?


  1. This reading complements the characteristics of success identified by Rothwell which you noted earlier. It adds that the development of new products is influenced by a range of factors including the size of the company, the type of product or service produced, the type of technology used, the company’s history, worker relationships and the abilities of a couple of unique and pivotal senior people.
  2. The three types of product development organisation discussed in the reading are;
    • Sequential; the relay race.
    • Iterative; the volleyball game.
    • Multidisciplinary; the rugby team.
    • Some questions that might be asked to gain insight into the product organisation structure used would be:
    • What is the size of the company?
    • Is the production process compartmentalised, with departments having discrete and different functions?
    • Is organisation within the company informal or highly formalised?

A core assumption in this article (and Rothwell) is an emphasis on product development being about ‘winning’ and ‘competitiveness’. Success is usually measured in terms of outputs from the innovation process. This can be contrasted with the next reading in this unit on the ASTI project, where the emphasis is on how to achieve co-operation and co-ordination in a partnership. Essentially the ASTI measures were on the success of effective inputs, although some outputs were noted.

2 Successful industrial innovation

4 Managing an innovative green design product