IDEO Product Development

Case Study Analysis I (IDEO)

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Case Study: IDEO Product Development

How would you characterize IDEO’s process, organization, culture, and management?
Decision point: should IDEO accept the Visor project as is (on a dramatically reduced schedule)? Should they try to persuade Handspring’s management to change its aggressive launch schedule? Or should they simply decline the project? In your discussion, please consider the IDEO and Handspring perspectives.
“I should have had café latte,” thought Dennis Boyle as he was sipping his strong espresso at
Peet’s coffeehouse, just around the corner from his office. Many designers and engineers from his
company, IDEO, one of the world’s largest and arguably most successful product development firms,
often gathered here and talked. It was late summer in Palo Alto, the heart of California’s Silicon
Valley, and Boyle gathered his thoughts for a meeting with David Kelley, the head and founder of
Boyle had just led his group through the development of 3Com’s Palm V hand-held computer,
which designers and managers at both firms already considered a successful product with very large
commercial potential. Now he was being asked to design the competing Visor product by the very
same individuals he had worked with previously. The only twist was that these clients themselves
now worked at Handspring, a new venture whose goal was to come out with a fully compatible,
slightly smaller and less expensive palm-size computer that could easily add functionality. 3Com
had even licensed out operating software to Handspring.
Although working on the Palm V challenged IDEO’s engineering skills, working with Handspring
promised to challenge the very manner in which it operated. It operated on the principle of getting
all team members to “fail often to succeed sooner”—a creative process that often looked to outsiders
like “spinning wheels.” The process usually generated a fountain of absurd-appearing but innovative
ideas before the final answer and product miraculously came through a process of discipline and fast
The IDEO philosophy melded Californian iconoclasm with a genuine respect for new ideas and
invention. For over two decades, the firm contributed to the design of thousands of new products
ranging from the computer mouse to the stand-up toothpaste dispenser. Along the way, it had also
become the largest award-winning design firm in the world (see Exhibit 2). IDEO came to national
prominence when ABC’s Nightline illustrated its innovation process by showing its designers reengineer a decades-old icon, the supermarket shopping cart, in just five days.