Joe Hall walked out of Tom Evers' office feeling "on top of the world." A
young and relatively inexperienced development engineer with XYZ Appliance, Joe had just
been given the green light to develop an idea he had for a modular water purification
device for the home. Not only had director of New Product Development Tom Evers liked the
idea, he asked Joe to form and head a project team to develop a prototype of the device.
Joe found the task to be more challenging than he had expected. To keep costs down, Joe
had to select team members with less experience than he wanted. Because of the
inexperience of the team, some of Joe's design ideas and materials choices had to be
corrected, and he soon realized that the cost of the prototype (and the ultimate selling
price of the appliance) would be higher than he originally estimated.
However, finally the day came when the project team ran a successful series of tests on
an operating prototype. Joe set up a review and demonstration with Tom. Tom then agreed to
arrange a review with XYZ's vice president of marketing to ascertain marketing's interest
in the water purification device. Unfortunately, the meeting with marketing did not go
well. The marketing vice president interrupted Joe's presentation of product cost, saying
"I wish you guys in development would ask for marketing input before you begin
to work on a new product. I can tell you our department is not interested in any type of a
water appliance! I think you've wasted company money and created an albatross. From my
viewpoint, you can shut off the project and put your prototype 'on the shelf.' I'll get
back to you if we ever develop interest in this area but don't expect that to be
Tom instructed Joe to write a final report and consign the prototype to the development
"morgue." All team members were assigned to other projects.
Upset that his first project team leader assignment failed, Joe decided he could not
give up so easily. XYZ had a policy of permitting R&D employees to use 10 percent of
their time to pursue new ideas without any further authorization. So, Joe continued to
work on his project during this time.
Although Joe every intention of confining his time on the project to 10 percent, he
soon got so absorbed that he spent more and more time. He made some additional vendor
contacts to get improved materials, "conned" a friend in Electronics Research to
work on the control system and had the machine shop do some additional work on the
prototype (charging the shop time to another project of his).
Although progress on Joe's other assignments suffered, he was able to make substantial
improvements in the water purification appliance. He debated with himself about when, and
who, to confess to Tom that he had not really closed out the project. He wished that he
could somehow get market research data that would convince Tom it had been the right move
to continue on the project, and to get Tom to push for a marketing go-ahead.
Joe often discussed the project with his wife, and one day she gave him an idea about
how to get some quick market data. She had seen a food products exhibitor in a local
shopping mall get passers-by to answer questionnaires about the products displayed. Joe
arranged for members of his wife's garden club to demonstrate the water purification
appliance at the local mall and ask viewers to fill out a questionnaire determining their
interest int he appliance and the price they would pay if it were for sale. Joe was
careful not to show any XYZ identification on the prototype, particularly since he had no
authorization to remove it from the XYZ laboratory.
Despite an amateurish approach, a considerable amount of data was collected. Reviewing
the data, Joe was more convinced than ever that he had developed a marketable product and
was anxious to convince Tom of this. He was sure he could make a very persuasive argument
about the potential market, and that Tom would overlook the fact that Joe had overridden
his orders to cease work on the appliance. Joe resolved to see Tom as soon as possible.
If you were Tom, how would you respond to Joe when he makes his presentation? Does the
fact that Joe has a possible success on his hands justify what he did?