Digital Innovation and Transformation - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Digital Innovation and Transformation

Course Number 2134

Associate Professor Karim R. Lakhani
Assistant Professor Feng Zhu
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
28 Sessions
Blog Posts and Final Paper

Career Focus

Digital Innovation and Transformation is designed to equip students to confidently help conceive, lead and execute digital innovation initiatives and develop new business models for existing and insurgent organizations. The basic premise of the course is that the digital revolution is rapidly transforming the fundamental nature of many companies in a wide range of industries and executives, entrepreneurs and general managers need to understand the economics, technology paradigms and management practices of innovating in digital-centric businesses to ensure corporate and personal success. The course is intended for students pursuing business careers in which digital technologies will be critical to the development of new products and services, e.g., entrepreneurial start-ups, consulting and venture capital, and senior positions in marketing, R&D, and strategy. Visits by case protagonists and industry experts will enable students to understand the career options in this rapidly evolving space.

Educational Objectives

Today firms are now establishing market leadership by mastering digital innovation. For example the traditional "Mad Men" advertising agencies now have to be able to blend digital products and services with creative strategy. Amazon is as much a retailer and supply chain powerhouse as it is a digital innovator. Similarly the Netflix business model is heavily reliant on continuously building and enhancing digital products and services to compete against incumbents in the entertainment industry. Ford is realizing that its future competitors are likely to be Facebook and Google and not BMW and Toyota. Meanwhile, Local Motors, an HBS-alum led startup, is using crowdsourcing, digital fabrication and 3D printing to disrupt the automotive industry.

The course introduces you to the critical elements of designing and developing digital products and services, how these can be configured and lead, and how the results are managed. These elements include economic and technological principles underlying digital transformation, identifying and integrating diverse user needs, organizing and leading product and service innovation initiatives, harnessing crowdsourcing and distributed innovation networks.

Course Content

The course materials intentionally cuts across functional boundaries, for the focus is squarely on the managerial skills and capabilities needed for effective practice. So while many situations you encounter emphasize the role of (new) technology, you will approach these as a manager, not as a technologist. If you happen to be a technologist, however, the managerial perspective will be enriching! But it's important to note that this managerial perspective is not undifferentiated. Depending on the situation, you will be assuming the role of team manager, project manager, functional manager, general manager, or CEO. This array of roles suggests how fundamental digital innovation is to firms at every level, and how excellence in its management is critical to competitiveness.

Specifically the course will help you learn:

  • The economic and technological factors that are at the heart of the digital revolution taking place in the economy;
  • The clash between existing business models and new digitally enhanced and led business models emphasizing platforms and ecosystems;
  • The competitive interactions among firms with different digital business models;
  • How to best organize and lead product and service innovation initiatives in the digital space;
  • The principles and practices of leveraging crowds for innovation and how various crowdsourcing business models are executed.

An important component of the course is the HBS Digital Initiative Summit that will bring together leading practitioners at the cutting edge of digital technologies to discuss emerging issues. This year's summit will focus on how emerging technologies like the Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are poised to impact value creation and value capture in the digital economy. The summit will be on November 18, 2015 4 to 7 pm in Batten Hall.


Grading will be based on class participation, blog posts, and a final paper.