New Process for Products: LEGO

Scott Francis
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Late last year, I wrote a couple of posts about an emerging “new process for product“.  I’m not claiming to have come up with the idea, or even to be the first to observe the phenomenon, but I wanted to bring it to the attention of the BPM community. The basic idea of Kickstarter, and the like, is to raise commitment money from buyers before beginning the first production run.  This works particularly well for niche manufactured products, which often require risk capital before demand is secure (in order to get a production run going, etc.). It turns out even some of the big players can get in the game – though they can afford to go about it in a different way.  Lego has released 2 products from its crowdsourced Cuusoo project.
That’s because of Cuusoo, Lego’s recently enhanced foray into crowdsourcing. Launched in Japan in 2008, but only opened to global beta this past October, Cuusoo invites users to submit–and vote for–ideas for new Lego sets. When an idea crosses the 10,000-vote threshold, it gets a formal internal review and a shot at production. If produced, the creator of the project will receive a 1% royalty on the net revenue from the set, not to mention serious bragging rights at the next BrickCon. The first Cuusoo project hit Japanese shelves almost a year ago–a limited-edition version of the Japanese deep sea submersible, the Shinkai 6500.  The second, a Japanese asteroid reconnaissance spacecraft called the Hayabusa, is scheduled for release on March 2nd.
It looks like more products are on the way.  Lego has had tools for designing projects available for some time (for example), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it is creating its analog to “Thingiverse” and of course, letting the best ideas go to production.  The main difference in the models – crowd-sourced vs. crowd-funded – is that it looks like “voting” is free in Lego’s crowd-sourced model,  whereas in the crowd-funded model, voting is done when you commit dollars to the project. Matt Kronsberg (of Fast Company) concludes:
From the outside these may almost look like two different companies at work: Industry Leader Lego is a blockbuster machine, with Friends, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile “Quirky Startup Lego” expands the public’s notions of the brand with ReBrick, Architecture, Life of George, and Cuusoo.  At the core though, they’re both motivated by the same two things; first, encouraging play and creative expression by as many people, in as many ways, as possible.
Perhaps this will be another proof point behind the “lean” concept as it applies to product design and development.  Its still a bit early to call it a success, but given the success of other crowd-sourced and crowd-funded models, it seems like a shoe-in. Somewhere the six-sigma guys have to be happy to see “Voice of the Customer” so explicitly integrated with a product design process, as it is essentially the start of it.

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