Futures Studies in Innovation Processes


Future studies in innovationDuring the past 5 months Lina Simme and Linda Eriksson from the master program in Design and Product Development at Linköping University conducted their master thesis together with us at Modular Management. It has been an exciting journey both for Lina and Linda and for us at Modular Management. Knowledge development is a strong passion for us and in the interview below Lina and Linda will share their experience and Colin De Kwant from Modular Management will give his view of the result. At the end, you can download the full master thesis.

What has been the topic of your research?

The topic we chose to write about is how you could apply futures studies in innovation processes. The full title is  "The Application of Futures Studies in Innovation Processes Scenario methods as a tool to facilitate flexibility and enable
future resilient products"

Why did you decide to write about this specific topic?

Companies in different industries are under a lot of pressure. We have seen that the environment for all industries is characterized by a dynamic market with a rate of change that is higher than ever especially concerning technological developments. Laws and regulations must be followed and nobody can be certain about what is to come. Innovation has therefore become a must rather than a need and you must be able to respond quickly on the changes in your environment to stay relevant on the market. Therefore we found the combination of futures studies and innovation processes incredibly interesting as a way to prepare for future changes although we know nothing about them!

What did you do in your research?

We studied what was discussed in literature concerning futures studies and innovation processes and tried to understand how we could link these two together in order to create a more flexible and holistic innovation process. We then conducted interviews with three different companies within the manufacturing of vehicles in the Swedish industry of rail and road vehicles to investigate how they have structured their innovation processes and how they make plans for their future. We tried to find ways of how and where futures studies could be incorporated within the innovation process in order to enable companies to produce more future resilient products.

How would you summarize the findings of your research?

Through our study, we have found that the conditions for companies’ capacity to innovate depend largely on their internal knowledge sharing as well as their interaction with the surrounding environment. We further found that futures studies are used in companies of the industry of rail and road vehicles, mostly at the corporate level to support planning and development strategies. Futures studies are also moderately used in the early phases of the innovation process with the purpose of detecting promising research projects, future development, and product concepts. However, we have identified that there is potential and a need of making more use of the already performed futures studies as well as improving their communication within the organization.Future Studies

The main issue that we saw with the present futures studies conducted in the industry of rail and road vehicles is that the results are not sufficiently communicated within the organization. One way of improving the integration of futures studies in the innovation process would be to involve employees from all departments in activities aimed at creating scenarios of the future. The result from the scenario activity could then serve as input for several activities: Promote idea generation to achieve more high-quality ideas, to ensure the quality and market fit of the products during the development process and as support for the corporate strategic planning. By using the scenarios of the future for more than one purpose, companies are given a chance to overcome the problems they are experiencing by translating the corporate strategy into specific product teams’ actions as well as aligning the direction of the different departments.

What are the key insights and take-away from this report?

Communication is key! Be awake and alert and stay open-minded for all possibilities!

How is your research connected to KTH’s research center ECO2VehicleDesign?

Our master thesis is supporting the research that Colin de Kwant is conducting at Modular Management which in turn is a part of the research within the ECO2Vehicle Design center at KTH. This way we became a part of the research center ECO2 and were further able to use it as a platform to find people to interview for our study. We were given the opportunity to participate during some of their gatherings which gave us great information and insights of the Swedish transport system in general. It turned out that the companies in the center made up for perfect candidates to investigate innovation processes as their products are very complex.

Why did you choose to do your thesis with Modular Management?

We met with Modular Management during a career fair at the University of Linköping and were introduced to what they do. As an engineer within the area of design and product development, modularization is something extremely engaging and opens a lot of possibilities. We met some of the employees and got a really good impression of the company so we started a conversation about what kind of master thesis could be valuable for both Modular Management and us to conduct. Discussions led to an interesting subject that we could shape into something that would fit well with our prior knowledge and competencies and which we really wanted to learn more about.

How have you experienced this process and what are your personal take-aways from this?

The process and collaboration with Modular Management has been great! We have had the opportunity to see how a consultancy firm really operates and how collaboration with other companies can be performed. We have been really welcomed at the company by all employees from the very first day and we have felt that we are a part of the Modular Management team. Although Covid-19 has limited us from being at the office for the last couple of months the feeling of being a part of Modular Management never changed. Thanks to the trust, freedom and support they have given us we never experienced any problems combining the criteria from our university nor our own interests with the interests of Modular Management.  - So if you are about to start a thesis, we recommend that you reach out to Modular Management!

What are your plans for the future? 

For the autumn Linda will begin her career at Axfood as a project controller for their IT department, which she is really excited about! Lina is still searching for exciting new challenges, so don’t miss out on the opportunity of grabbing her for your company! But first, we will both enjoy the summer months and some time off after five years of intensive studies. Although who knows, anything can happen as the future is uncertain anyways!

Thanks, Lina & Linda! Now turning to Colin De Kwant,  VP at Modular Management. You have been the supervisor, together with Arne Erlandsson for this project and what are your reflections from the result of their research?

The results and attitude to the work by Lina and Linda have been really great. Future studies is a big field of research that is greatly underappreciated both in MSc university studies as well as industry. Not being able to know what the future holds and still being able to prepare for it in a structured way in organizations by exploring and aligning on areas of change as well as certainty builds strategic flexibility in both individuals and organizations. Modularity has since long been a means to create and sustain such strategic flexibility, and we know how to apply it in a structured way. This study helped in formalizing and structure to what ends modularity shall be evaluated and applied to a product: to fit and perform in future environments (aka scenarios). The study also identified ways to extend the use of future studies from corporate strategy and fuzzy front-end development into the full innovation process, including the development of products and module systems that may enable or disable innovation and strategic opportunities along with the development and module system lifecycle. 

Anything specific that stood out?

I believe the interviews with industry specialists have been really well done and valuable. Our ECO2VehicleDesign center partners have been really helpful and generous to provide Lina and Linda with insights into their innovation processes. We at Modular Management gain a lot of insight into the role of corporate strategy and product planning when evaluating and guiding the creation of module systems in our engagements with clients. This study was a great example of the complementary value of our research network: to discuss challenges and the innovation process with industry experts in open and unconditional conversations and structured in a broader context of the innovation process.

How is Modular Management involved in KTH’s research center ECO2VehicleDesign.

Colin: ECO2 is a quite unique research center. Like I said about the interviews, the center enables us to share and compare future challenges, gain insight from research across rail and road, small and large companies, at detailed technical practical as well as industry level, with academia, research labs, SMEs, and even competing OEMs. That is really great. This is actually precisely the culture in which innovations are spawned and images of the future can provide structure to the conversation and diversity of perspectives. Modular Management acts as a sounding board for all of ECO2 research as a member of the central coordination group, but also conducts and shares its own research together with some of the center partners and gaining feedback from the full center community.

What is your learning and take-away from the report?

The study and report reinforce our belief in the need for structured sustained modeling of future needs and context to guide product and organizational innovation. We believe both exploratory and normative scenarios can act as communication and evaluation platforms for the modularization options at our clients. Before, in early phases, during implementation and along the module system lifecycle. We see the need and challenges to connect corporate strategy with design realization in each of our engagements, not just vehicle industries. Innovative strategies emerge both at the top and bottom of organizations.

How will this be used at Modular Management going forward?

This is the really exciting part: how will we use this work? We are working on the next phase of this research aimed to combine the module system and scenario data to assess the robustness of a modular product system. We’ll look at both new (conceptual) and existing (current) product systems, to guide product planners, strategists and designers in strategic and design opportunities and challenges as the future unfold.

Thank you Lina & Linda for a fantastic job and we highly recommend you all to read their full report.  You can download it below and we will send it to you.