An all-star team is making headway with a new initiative that could alter the future of the organization. Spirits are optimistic and the team is successfully maneuvering through new, yet very promising, territory. Then, the results begin taking longer than anticipated to prove, and after too much time spent outside of their comfort zones, the team of high-achieving employees can’t seem to execute within the uncertain environment.
The team’s outlook shifts and it becomes clear that the group will not be able to weather the storm of uncertainty needed to realize this new organizational opportunity.
How could such a capable team fail?
At the heart of many organizations is a deeper problem that blocks transformation: product/function organizational structure. This structure works in well-understood environments, where maximizing delivery of a product or service is the goal, but transformative projects require the organization to return to a more malleable
Platforms can be a strong source of competitive advantage. But how do you build a successful platform if you only have products? In our recent HBR article, we explain the fundamentals of transforming products into platforms. Like riding a bike, it’s easy to describe the physics but hard to actually do. What are the “best practices” of building platforms from products?
In our research, we found that platforms emerge and grow akin to companies, people, and products. They don’t just appear — they evolve. Thoughtful management on both the demand side and the supply side can smooth the transition.
Creating a new platform out of your product involves attracting a large number of users, but our research suggests that user growth isn’t linear. It occurs in stages:
Structuring an external product “love group”
Transforming the love group into early platform adopters
Leveraging early adopters to accelerate platform adoption
When the Microsoft Surface first appeared, many critics panned it as a clumsy move into hardware — a device that was stuck in the middle, a half-step behind the hot market for tablets and only a half-step beyond the dying market for PCs. When the Surface then took off and gave new life to the Microsoft turnaround, it seemed to reinforce the upside-down logic of the company’s digital transformation. However, what few people realized was that Microsoft leveraged an old but often overlooked tool that has remarkable power to manage such transitions.
Over the centuries, firms have used hybrids to manage periods of difficult transition. In a recent article, we defined hybrids as combinations of competing elements or technical generations; for example, the Toyota Prius combines elements of internal combustion engines and electric cars. The advantage of hybrids is that they are a half-step that can help their developers