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 or Team Project

Career Focus

Digital Innovation and Transformation is a new course designed to equip students to confidently help conceive, lead and execute digital innovation initiatives. 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 innovation is 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. Frequent 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;
  • How customer and user needs are identified for digital innovation initiatives and how digital tools are used to identify customer needs in traditional settings;
  • 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 by incumbent and startups.

Course Requirements

Course Class participation is 50% of final grade. Students have the option of completing the remaining 50% through choosing between the following two options:

Option 1: Blog posting and commenting:

Write 5 blog posts (~one per module) based on module concepts: ~ 500 - 750 words, or multimedia post (video, audio, presentation)

Comment on 5 blogs posts - one per module

Option 2: Team Projects for HBS Digital Initiative

Objective is to give you real-life experience with digital innovation related-projects for the newly launched HBS Digital Initiative. Apply principles learned in class to projects.

Work in close collaboration with DI faculty and staff to design and develop creative digital solutions for the Initiative.

Teaching Team

Joining Professors Lakhani and Zhu as occasional guest instructors will be Steve Sinofsky (HBS Executive in Residence) and Professor Shane Greenstein (Visiting Professor from Kellogg). Steve Sinofsky has extensive experience building and shipping successful software products (including Microsoft Windows 7 & 8 and Office). Most recently he was the president of the Microsoft's Windows Division. Professor Shane Greenstein is the Kellogg Chair of Information Technology and Professor of Management and Strategy at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. He is a leading researcher in the business economics of computing, communications and Internet Infrastructure and has published extensively for both the scholarly and management audiences.