Product development group likes social media
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Mark Adkins defines a product developer as a person who "starts with a clean sheet of paper and takes a product the whole way through to market."
But for his latest development, he started by putting together a board of directors for a Pittsburgh chapter of the Product Development and Management Association. The group's big reveal is next week when it holds its first event, which focuses on social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Mr. Adkins sits on the national PDMA board as vice president of marketing and started the Cincinnati chapter 10 years ago. Founded in 1976, the association has more than 3,500 members across more than 20 chapters.
He started laying the foundation for a Pittsburgh chapter while working as president of his consulting company Smart Hammer Innovations.
The association's first event at the Heinz Innovation Center at 3:30 p.m. next Thursday is meant to be a forum on the hot topic of the moment: social media. Pricing and registration information is available at www.PDMA.org. People also can register to watch a live webcast.
"Embracing Social Media as a Tool in our Product Development Toolbox" was inspired by discussions with Jeff Thompson, the strategic marketing manager at McKesson Automation in Cranberry and a member of the PDMA Pittsburgh board.
The immediate connection established through social media between a company and its customers offers a chance to bring consumer voices into the product development process, said Mr. Thompson.
"When you look back at a product and ask what could make it stronger, usually it's, 'If only I'd understood the customer a bit better,'" he said.
The board of directors of the new chapter includes executives from veteran bigwigs -- Alcoa, Carnegie Mellon University, H.J. Heinz -- and smaller firms -- OpLaunch, Bright Innovation, Bally Design. Eleven members in all have joined Mr. Adkins on the board.
Even though the members come from a gamut of industries, Mr. Adkins said the universal issues of product development were the same across sectors.
"The person from Kennametal or Alcoa gets in the room with Heinz or Del Monte, and they can talk," he said. "It's the applications that are unique."
But in a time when companies keep lips sealed and don't want leaks to contaminate a product launch, how can a group like this expect people to really talk to each other?
"You will not get nitty-gritty competitive advantage information" at a PDMA event, said Mr. Adkins. Yet the product development world is showing signs of a move away from the ultrasecret company policies that respond to leaked information with subpoenas and investigations.
A trend toward "open" innovation is taking place, he said, in which developers aren't afraid to "go outside the company's four walls" and hire consultants for help. Another path being explored is soliciting customer suggestions for new products on the company website.
The social media seminar will help only those more open efforts, said Mr. Thompson.
"Social media is about customer feedback and about involving them into the design more easily," he said.
First Published June 17, 2010 12:00 am