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Are-you-cut-out-for-product-incubation?
Sharad Sharma
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
What’s good for the gander is not good for the geese. There are two worlds out there. Where do you belong? Are you more suitable for product offshoring or product incubation?

This is not an idle question. For the first time ever, both product offshoring and product incubation are growing in India. If you work for an R&D MNC captive, you now have an option. Knowing where you fit better can give you a distinctive career edge.

Here is a simple test:

* Do you thrive on meeting commitments? Do you like working against crisp objectives?
Can you rally the team to stay on schedule? Do you have a strong delivery mindset?

* Can you partition complex systems into pieces so that they can be co-developed in different locations? Can you stay awake worrying about keeping different teams in sync? Can you think in organizational terms?

* Would you rather work on a small product team so that you can feel and smell the customer? Would you like doing a product demo to the customer just as much as making an architecture presentation to your big bosses? Do you think about customer opportunities all the time?

* Do you like being a game-changer? Do you get your kicks by making a difference or by controlling a large team?

Well, did you see a pattern emerge? If you didn’t, you are not alone. That is pretty common. Unless you have spent some time with yourself – reflecting, observing and questioning your life at work – you would not know what’s really important to you in your career. In the old world of scarce opportunities, it didn’t matter if you didn’t examine your work-life. You had one set of options and you learnt to make most of it. Now things are different. You have choices and they have to be made.

In the simple test above, the first two traits favor product offshoring while the latter two are more suited for product incubation. In fact, the leadership qualities needed for product incubation in India are quite different from those needed for product offshoring. Product incubation needs people who prefer to be market-led rather than instruction-led; are comfortable evangelizing their beliefs and ideas rather than letting them speak for themselves; and are risk-taking versus risk-aversive.

In reality, the change is even more dramatic. If product offshoring is, in a way, about coding, logic and quality, then product incubation is about innovation, passion and aesthetics. It’s more a mindset change than it is about skills and processes. And, mindset changes are harder to bring about, particularly if the old mindsets have been successful (as has been the case with product offshoring).

A legendary (and true) story about successful mindset change comes from Samsung. In the late-‘90s, it was playing the high-volume high-quality game churning out boxy, copycat designs. Then Chung Kook Hyu, a senior executive at Samsung decided Samsung had to become masters of design if they had to become market leaders. To become a design-driven company required a dramatic change in Samsung’s hierarchical, Confucian corporate culture. How did Samsung do it? It hired top U.S. design firms such as IDEO to teach its designers the skills and values of design innovation. It sent many designers overseas to live and work in Western design studios. It opened its own Innovative Design Lab of Samsung (IDS), an in-house school where designers could study under experts from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. It also created a new position, the chief design officer, allowing designers to go to the top with their new ideas. Young designers were encouraged to challenge their superiors. As we know today, this transformation has really paid off.

The product offshoring captives need a similar mindset change as they go from an offshoring model to an incubation model. Will you thrive in that change?

The author is CEO of Yahoo! India R&D. His 21 years experience in software & wireless sectors involves a turnaround (of VERITAS India ops), a startup (now part of Cisco), and an intrapreneurial setup of AT&T/Lucent’s R&D in India. He can be reached at sharads@yahoo-inc.com

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