Module Note | March 2006

Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World

by Alan D. MacCormack


Describes the second module of the 30-session Harvard Business School elective course Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World. The course helps students understand the challenges that uncertainty implies for innovation and how to overcome these challenges. The course emphasizes multiple levels of analysis--from creating and executing development projects to building and balancing portfolios of projects to assessing and selecting future opportunities for development--showing how these activities can be aligned to face uncertainties and take advantage of the opportunities they present. Students respond to the situations from multiple perspectives and assume different roles--from project manager to CEO--to appreciate how various organizational roles themselves reflect these perspectives. The second module forms the heart of the course. Focuses on how firms define and explore the design spaces they choose to exploit, emphasizing themes that highlight how firms respond to the uncertainty they face in new product development projects and new business ventures. These themes address various organizational aspects, including development process flexibility, systems for experimentation and learning, product and organizational design, and program and portfolio design. They emphasize that a coherent approach to managing innovation requires that a firm understand how to deal with uncertainty within projects, across projects (i.e., in designing a portfolio), and over time (i.e., in designing a program). A central insight is the need to coordinate actions across these levels.

Keywords: Innovation and Management; Problems and Challenges; Business Processes; Perspective; Opportunities; Risk and Uncertainty; Managerial Roles; Product Design; Business Startups; Organizational Design;


MacCormack, Alan D. "Managing Innovation in an Uncertain World." Harvard Business School Module Note 606-103, March 2006.