4 Managing an innovative green design product

The reading Managing the Design of an Innovative Green Transport Project, (Potter, 1999), addresses the problems people face when managing a complicated and innovative project. The ‘ASTI’ case study reported in this reading was one of several that were undertaken as part of a European Commission-funded project to develop a design management tool called Strategic Niche Management (see the Weber et al, 1999, reference in the article). The purpose of this research was to develop a tool for designers. But rather than concentration on the relationship between project tasks, the emphasis is on the relationship between the people and organisations (the ‘actors’) who need to be brought together to undertake an innovative design project.

The Organising Design and Innovation (Walsh et al 1992) reading that you just studied identified a number of problems in developing innovative products. The first part of the 1999 ASTI article notes the even greater challenges facing innovative ‘green’ transport projects. There is great uncertainty as to what sort of technology is most environmentally-benign, whether it will be accepted by users and who might introduce and promote it. Strategic Niche Management was developed in response to problems with previous approaches to Technology Forcing, whereby governments chose a particular technology and financially supported its research and development. Often this resulted in rather poor technologies being supported over better ones. Strategic Niche Management takes a totally different approach. Its purpose is not to pick technological winners, but to establish a framework in which a number of new technologies can develop in protected ‘niches’. The framework is designed to give each technology its best chance of success by providing good and effective design management. When the technology emerges from its initial protected niche project, competition with other technologies will establish winners and losers. This is thus an evolutionary/biological approach, with no preconceived judgements or prior assumptions as to whether any particular technology or system is to be, say, the ‘Transport of the Future’ or not.

There is an important contrast between the thinking underpinning the earlier article ‘Organising Design and Innovation’ (1992) and this ASTI article. The former involved an acceptance of what constituted ‘success’. Success was defined in terms of financial results and speed to market. The approach behind Strategic Niche Management is about how to effectively co-operate, how to develop an understanding relationship with partners and how learning is developed through a project.

Activity 5

Read the article Managing the Design of an Innovative Green Transport Project and answer the following question.

  • What sort of information was gathered in this project?

Comment

The information gathered was less on project design, and more on the nature of the relationships of the partnership network, how this was managed and what motivations and benefits were involved for each of the partners.

Further Thoughts on ASTI

ASTI involved a very complicated management task. There was development work on two new vehicle designs, together with innovative trip-matching computer software and vehicle tracking equipment. There were not only technical innovations, but organisational innovations associated with the technical developments. The concept of independent fleet operators pooling their resources in order to improve the service to all their users could involve considerable friction if things went wrong (and possible even if they did not!). This aspect appears to have worked remarkably well.

The project was led by a Social Economy organisation that had a culture of co-operative and partnership working. This raises the interesting point that such organisations may provide lessons to more commercially oriented organisations where concepts of competition dominate and where success is measured purely in financial terms. This resonates with the Kickstart pump case study you studied earlier.

A key aspect was that the ASTI project ended up with a set of partners who all had something to gain from its success. These motivations were in terms of the strategic concerns of the organisations and usually were not necessarily environmental. Even Camden Community Transport’s core motivations were not environmental but linked to its social mission and a recognition of cost effectiveness issues. The integration of parallel accessible services provided by the IT systems developed through ASTI addressed these. Cleaner fuels were almost a side issue, but gained in importance as the project progressed.

This was true for other partners; ASTI was relevant to their core interests - even though their core interests may not have been the same. One exception to this concerned the software development where there was a problem in getting a company on board as nobody saw a CT minibus project as representing an important market. In practice, accessible transport services did have real potential, which until ASTI had been unrealised. Signal Computing have now a good competitive edge in this market.

Furthermore, to some individuals, ASTI was a project that was important to them in terms of building their careers and expertise. ASTI was not ‘just another job to be done’, it was a career move. Thus ASTI related well to both core organisational and individual motivations.

Activity 6

How do you think the partners involved in ASTI would have defined ‘success’?

If you have a proposed dissertation or project topic, would different players define ‘success’ in the same or different ways?

Comment

The meaning of ‘success’ has varied significantly between the readings in this unit, and reflects differences in their core rationales. For ASTI, success was defined at a number of levels, including:

  • That a technology worked
  • User satisfaction
  • Partner expectations were achieved (or in some cases grew or were changed)
  • Learning by and between partners

The meaning of ‘success’ was not about the commercial success of the product, although many partners saw ASTI as helping to build up long-term commercial advantage.

3 Managing design and innovation