Visual methods of knowledge transfer and a first foray into Open Innovation by David Grant

The KTP project between Strathclyde University and Howden 

While putting together my design portfolio with my supervisor during my final year of my undergraduate degree in Product Design and Innovation we were casually discussing my employment prospects and my plans for the future. At that point I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a job since every interview I had attended had resulted in rejection. When my supervisor heard this he casually said “Don’t worry, you’ll get something. Have you looked into KTP Projects?” That is how it all started. 

The Associate 

My name is David Alexander Grant. I was born in Irvine on the 23rd of March 1989 and I stay in the small town of Kilmarnock which is located in the south west of Scotland. I’ve always been interested in engineering and design and I graduated with a 2:1 honours degree in July 2013. For a year, I worked as a design engineer for a small engineering firm before identifying a KTP Project that I was interested in and could apply for. 

The Company 

Howden are a global engineering firm headquartered in Glasgow. Established in 1862 by the Scottish engineer James Howden, their primary focus was the design and manufacture of boilers and steam engines for the marine industry. Today they are focused on air and gas handling within the oil & gas and power generation sectors and their product ranges from centrifugal and axial fans to screw compressors, heaters and turbo blowers. Howden are currently owned by Colfax who also own the welding and cutting company ESAB and Colfax Fluid Handling. 

The Project 

The project was a collaboration between the marketing department of the University of Strathclyde and Howden. The position that was advertised was for a “New Product Development Analyst” and the project brief consisted of the creation and release of a bespoke product development procedure. This would be done by performing an investigation into best practice product development and evaluating the situation regarding product development within Howden. I was hired six months into the two year project as the first associate had moved on. I was given all of the research that had already been completed surrounding the current situation within Howden and was tasked to pick up where the previous associate left off. The main theme that came through the research was that since the output of any product development work within Howden was a book of rules that could be used to create bespoke products that met their customer’s specifications exactly, the “one size fits all” process for product development would not produce adequate results. 

Visual Communication 

To enable me to organise my thoughts regarding the process that was to be developed I started to draw the process map out in my A4 note pad. I quickly realised that there wasn’t enough room on one page for me to effectively illustrate my thoughts so I found some flip chart paper and started sticking it to the wall. I redrew the process using colourful sharpies and quickly filled all the space that was available on the wall. As my colleagues passed where I had been working they would stop and ask me questions about what I was doing, the procedure that I was creating and what the KTP actually was. As we talked we would collaborate and amend the drawing with Post-It notes and this would result in improvements to the process as a whole. This method of communication worked really well as it meant that the people who would be using the procedure on a day to day basis were contributing to its development. It also assisted with my integration into the department where I was based which was a huge benefit to me and to the KTP Project. 

Results & Outcomes 

After various iterations of the process it was piloted on strategic product development projects in a controlled environment to test its robustness and to validate its operation. The results of the pilot were savings to the business of $175,000 in design optimisations through the use of one tool that the procedure prescribed. That was just the measurable benefit, there were many other intangible benefits to using the new procedure such as increased communication and team working as a result of members of the product development team being allocated responsibility and accountability for tasks that were required to be completed. Also, having a general structure in place meant that the team could effectively map out what they wanted to achieve. 

Open Innovation 

A really surprising output of using the visual method of communication was that it was highlighted as a form of “inside-in” open innovation. The academic team that was part of the KTP Project took much of the data that my work with Howden produced and submitted two abstracts to the 2nd World Open Innovation Conference which was recently hosted in Santa Clara in California. The team had one full paper accepted and were invited to present the other as a poster at the conference, which was a huge academic achievement. 

Career Development 

One of the big things that attracted me to do a KTP was the fact that the projects are structured in a way that allows the associate to learn and achieve further qualifications in their particular field of study. Personally I have taken full advantage of this by registering to sit a higher degree, undertaking leadership and management training through Ashorne Hill Training College and the Chartered Management Institute and I am currently undertaking training from the Association of Project Managers with a view of sitting and passing the APMP Exam. The KTP Program has contributed greatly to my career progression and has resulted in many fantastic additions to my CV. It has helped focus my career goals and it has exposed me to lots of fun and challenging situations. 

If you would like to get in touch with David:

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Neil Kay, Beverly Wagner, Henry Chesborough, Nusa Fain and David Grant at The World Open Innovation Conference.

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