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Product Development as a Problem-solving Process

Over the years, scholars of innovation have taken two different perspectives when conducting research: the macro level and the micro level. The macro-level perspective to innovation, represented in this handbook by Chapters 1, 9, and 12, searches for patterns of innovation at the industry level. This allows the researcher to study questions related to the evolution of particular technologies, the formation of standards, and the competitive behavior of firms within the industry.

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However, innovations do not just happen. A researcher who analyzes innovations at the micro-level will find sophisticated new product development processes employed by organizations, project teams, and individual researchers. Since innovations typically represent solutions to existing problems and product development projects typically attempt to improve upon the problems of existing products, these processes can be thought of as problem-solving processes.

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The objective of this chapter is to establish a problem-solving framework that can be used as a guide through the academic literature on product development. The problem-solving perspective has at least two advantages.

First, it is sufficiently general that it allows us to abstain from favoring any one of the many existing academic disciplines associated with product development, such as marketing, operations management, organizational theory, engineering, and design.

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Second, the problem-solving view will reveal many similarities between the existing literature streams, illustrate how these streams have cross-fertilized each other, and point to fruitful areas of future research. This chapter is organized as follows.

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Following a review of the very early work on design theory, we introduce our problem-solving framework by defining the concepts of problem representation, problem structure, reproducibility, and problem-solving

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