One of the modules I am in is called Management of Technology. This module focuses on bringing a new technology to market and includes all aspects of the process: manufacturing the product, gaining the most benefit from the product, protecting the technology from competitors, and everything in between. The lecturer is superb, and his class is my most well-spent two academic hours in the entire week.
Last week, we had a guest lecturer speak on New Product Introduction, and this week we had a workshop to drive the point home. Hoo boy. Ever since I went through the entrepreneurship section of Intro to Engineering at my undergraduate uni, I have had a revulsion to activities such as making airplanes out of a random assortment of materials (i.e. post-it notes, tootsie rolls, toothpicks, mentos, paper clips, etc). In fact, I generally dislike any activity that bears any resemblance to "here, be creative with materials from an overturned kitchen drawer and build something in a limited amount of time!!" However, hands-on activities tend to teach valuable lessons, so I have been learning to put aside my fear and jump in.
Tonight's project was to design, build, cost, market, and sell a self-parking car. In 2 hours. One main director, one project manager, three R&D people, two marketers, two finance people, and a manufacturer on a team. I chose to be on the marketing team (don't ask me why - I still don't really know). Information became a premium very quickly, with comments and questions flying every which way:
"Okay, so what kind of a car are we going to build?"
"Um, I'm not sure. What kind of market are we targeting?"
"I guess we can go either sporty, rich or cheap, lower-class. But I don't know which one is better."
"Okay, well maybe we should set how much is the car going to cost first."
"We don't know that until we know what kind of car we have the technology to build, which depends on R&D. How much can we afford to have the car cost?"
"I don't know until I know how many cars we are planning sell. Do we know that?"
"Um....no. No clue."
Round and round the questions went, until it became pretty clear that some market research was needed to point us in the right direction. So we shoveled out some cash and were rewarded with a yellow, laminated piece of paper with buyer preferences. Ha ha! NOW we can get somewhere!!! Onward!
The company name we came up with was Urbana Inc, with the slogan Move Smarter. Also, the car name was Moveo (pronounced Mo-VAY-o), with the catchphrase Perfect Positioning. Our main team lead did an awesome job keeping us all on track and gave a wonderful sales presentation at the end. He also acted very professionally, interfacing quickly and efficiently between his subgroups like the project was the real deal. At one point he had a question for the R&D people who were furiously adding and removing legos from the car and jiggling wires, and I heard him say in a very commanding yet respectful way, "gentlemen, please, just a moment of your time." I would work with him any day.
In the end, the other marketing person and I decided not to buy the final piece of market research that actually had a critical piece of information in it: what market would buy the majority of cars in the first year. In order for distributors to buy your car at the Geneva Convention, you have to market to what they need right now. We accidentally did the opposite because we didn't think we needed the information even though our finance team had budgeted for it. Our car would have been good for the long term market, but we didn't make many immediate sales. Oops...
In the end, many valuable lessons learned. Communication is key - I loved having everyone working in the same room. What features you need depends on what your market is, and how much things are going to cost depends on what features you put on it. Also, if you're targeting to sell at a low price, you have to make sure that your design team is not putting on extra frills, and you have to know what your costs are to set a selling price. You also need to know projected sales to calculate the best manufacturing plan, which then dictates cost, and so on and so forth. Very complicated, but having immediate access to everyone involved in the project was extremely helpful.
Once again, hours well spent. My time is never wasted in that class, and I look forward to hearing feedback from the professors and my classmates next week.