In industries where innovation is highly distributed, companies often attempt to gain market advantages by coordinating their product introductions with those of other companies in hopes of generating increased sales and customer satisfaction. Synchronization can take a number of forms, and the implementation costs vary widely. Moreover, keeping part of a company’s operations synchronized with those of another can present substantial challenges involving control. The challenges are magnified when capturing the benefits of synchrony depends on many other players in the industry network.
Understanding what it takes to coordinate critical activities across industry networks can be extremely helpful, particularly in technology-intensive industries, where innovation is distributed and companies are strategically interdependent. Sony and Microsoft, leading manufacturers of video game consoles, for example, often try to coordinate product releases with game manufacturers such as Electronic Arts.
The network of relationships among companies within an industry plays a key role in producing synchronization. Such relationships can range from intense collaborations to arm’s-length alliances involving less interaction. Enterprises synchronize their product development work in three different ways: by planning the synchrony proactively with a few other partner organizations; by reacting to signals by other companies; or by combining these two approaches to create a hybrid approach.
In industries that produce highly complex products, industry leaders can overcome the weaknesses of planned and reactive synchronization by blending the two approaches. This involves proactively engaging with the company or companies they absolutely must coordinate with and “signaling” their intentions to a selected group of other companies in hopes that the broader network of companies will respond.