|Book Review: Strategic Management of Technological Innovation|
Strategic Management of Technological Innovation
Written by: Melissa A. Schilling. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005. 289+xi pages.
Technology management is a key activity in innovation and the development of new products and services. The mix of technical and business challenges is also an important concern within the increasingly cross-functional domain of new product development (NPD). Both of these books provide teaching assistance in the education domain. Whereas Melissa Schilling provides a workable textbook, complete with theory, examples, and questions, George Tesar et al. give a casebook of 18 cases and accompanying commentary.
Both books are closely linked with NPD, addressing the field from a technology management perspective. Representative of the approach in both books, Tesar et al. state that “… to be competitive and maintain market position, firms need to manage more closely their existing products and strategically introduce new products” (p. 5). Both books try to appeal across disciplines and indeed to improve cross-discipline understanding. Therefore, their potential value to NPD education is clear. Given the dynamic nature of the industrial environment, these up-to-date and information-rich books may also prove useful for NPD managers, particularly those with less experience in business scenarios or those needing a refresher in NPD theory.
In Strategic Management of Technological Innovation Schilling provides a concisely written, well-structured book that maintains the readers' interest over its nearly 300 pages. She divides 13 chapters into the following three parts: (1) industry dynamics of technological innovation; (2) formulating technological innovation strategy; and (3) implementing technological innovation strategy.
As with most books in this market, value must be judged on the merits of presentation and selection of available material rather than the content in its own right. The author does this well, enriching the material through short cases, chapter summaries, and discussion questions. The cases, which begin each chapter, include stories from Segway, Palm, Boeing, and Microsoft. These provide a frame of reference for the theory presented in the chapter and represent a good mix alongside standard content including technology S-curves, diffusion, timing of entry, and intellectual property rights. At the core of part 3 on implementing technological innovation strategy are two useful chapters on the management of the NPD process and teams.
Several book features enlighten the content. In addition to the short cases, “Theory in Action” boxes discuss industrial experiences, and all chapters include a high-quality, comprehensive reference list. Sidebars define key words and terms, and “Research Brief” boxes highlight important research works and perhaps present them in a more palatable fashion for students. Other points of note include good integration and dialogue between chapters with such cross-referencing helping to reenforce the learning process. The author's own research efforts also make an impact with an extended case on the video game industry, taken from Schilling (2003), making a fitting appearance in the final chapter.
Weaknesses are hard to find. Given the subject's breadth, this book would have to be augmented by several external sources to make it appropriate for many graduate level courses. In all fairness, comprehensive referencing accommodates this fact. Although not all content can be included, there are one or two notable omissions; for example, there is no mention of foresight methods, including scenario analysis, and more content on the use of metrics, aggregate project planning, and the mix of platform and derivative projects would have been welcome. Engineering and technical development theory is a bit light even though it is a strategic management book.
For classroom teaching the book fulfills its mission very well. Given the added bonus of potential use across a spectrum of disciplines, it should become one of the more frequently used texts for innovation management courses in years to come. For NPD courses with a focus on engineering and technical aspects it will serve as an excellent accompaniment to a main text.
A potential teaching complement to Schilling is Tesar et al.'s Strategic Technology Management. Using case studies, the editors justify their cross-discipline aim by stating that “managers with education and training either in sciences or engineering, or only in business management, will not be successful in facing the increasingly hyper competitive global market” (p. 391). Trainee managers and students, both graduate and undergraduate, are the stated target market.
The book contains 18 cases divided into the following five topic areas: (1) managing the creative process in a cross-functional global environment; (2) product concept development in a competitive marketplace; (3) business analysis and market potential; (4) getting a product from the laboratory to the market; and (5) commercialization of new technology. Approximately 90% of book content is in the form of cases. It contains a very short opening introduction and conclusion, and several pages of NPD-focused discussion of the issues introduce each topic area. The book provides good value for money—acquiring 18 good quality cases would normally represent a greater investment than that of purchasing one book.
Each case contains two types of content: knowledge content from the fields of science, business, and engineering; and standard theory from the fields of NPD and technology management. The latter provides a good basis for the discussion of NPD situations, including whether to sell or license technology, the implementation of “skunkworks” within established business, and expansion strategy. Recurring themes of interest include the environment, opportunity versus risk decisions, social responsibility, and political change in Eastern Europe. Real-world knowledge included in the cases could be useful in other contexts, including theory on automotive braking systems, stem cell research, and the U.S. Federal Drug Administration drug approval process. Some themes, including the use of plants to reduce toxic waste (phytoremidation), make fascinating—albeit challenging—reading.
Such challenging reading prepares the student for real-life practice where processing large amounts of unfamiliar information is often required to make a decision. Such is the domain of cases as a teaching aid. Other features of the case system present in the book include the presentation of information in various forms (e.g., text, financial tables, drawings, equations) and the need to make business trade-offs representing less-than-optimum solutions.
Tesar et al. is not a ready-made teaching aid like Schilling. Although some questions are included at the end of cases, the instructor will have to spend time developing specific teaching content. Also, only one-third of the cases are real, so it is in the best interest of instructors who rely on well-known names to pique the interest of students to look elsewhere.
There is no doubting the quality and value represented by the cases. However, the book has one major flaw: it explicitly claims to “build bridges” between sciences, engineering, and business management. Although the use of several cases may necessitate the forming of cross-functional teams, the book does nothing (apart from simply presenting the cases) toward satisfying this aim. The book's subtitle and back cover, which states the provision of “guidelines on how [cross-functional] difficulties can be overcome,” are both inaccurate and misleading.
The topic introductions, although displaying a rich understanding of NPD issues, are unrelated to the cases. These at times lose focus on the theme in question, which is exacerbated by several ill-fitting cases within each of the topics. The six-page conclusion, titled “Integration of Material,” identifies the source of cross-functional problems in NPD but does not offer guidelines to build bridges, or indeed, to integrate the material. The book should either be reclassified as a casebook, or more case discussion and exploitation should be evident, which would require a reduction in the number of cases. Vincenti (1990) provides an example of case presentation and discussion. A mapping of topic areas across the NPD process, together with cases and disciplines, may have been useful for increased visualization. Readers not overly familiar with the complete NPD process (for example individual scientists, engineers, or business students) may find the scope and content as presented at times daunting and perhaps confusing.
Some mistakes could easily have been avoided. Several language errors appear throughout the book. Case number 13 includes six subheadings with the same title: strategy. Finally, given the explicit education and training purpose, the presence of a disclaimer on each of the cases seems a bit mystifying, and it necessitates prior permission before case usage.
In conclusion, I recommend this book solely because of its cases, which provide a rich basis from which to design teaching material. Simply presenting these, however, does not justify the “building bridges” claim the book makes.
Both books show the potential benefits of using a textbook and casebook for NPD teaching and training. They are also well rooted in industrial practice, developing NPD and innovation theory within industrial cases and examples. As such they may prove useful to managers thinking more deeply on the NPD process and business situations, especially in light of the increasing complexity and dynamism of the industrial environment. These books also illustrate the increasing power and influence of technologically focused NPD in today's business, engineering, and scientific worlds and, as stated by Tesar et al., the “new generation of managers” (p. 391) who will move between them.