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How to Transform the Industry in One Year

If ever there was a case where focusing on collaboration radically changed the way a company did business, it is embodied in the example of IBM and the development of its industry-changing Personal Computer.

In the summer of 1980, longtime computer hardware maker IBM identified a new task, one different in many ways from anything that the company had undertaken before. Acting on an idea generated by William C. Lowe, lab director for the company's Entry Systems division, IBM brought together a team of 12 engineers led by manager Don Estridge to create a cheap, but powerful, personal computer.

The idea itself wasn't a new one â€" Xerox, Apple, Tandy and others already had products on the market â€" but IBM would create its PC and get it to market in just one year, building it from parts drawn in from a variety of other companies. The computer would be powered by an Intel processor, use an Epson printer and run on a trio of operating systems, most notably Microsoft's DOS operating system. On top of that, the computer was also sold through outside retailers, something uncommon for IBM and most of the industry at the time.

So what can we learn from IBM's collaborative effort to build the PC, an undertaking also known as Project Chess?

An effective team needs faith from on high IBM let the Project Chess team approach the task in an entirely different way than the company's normal operating procedure. Management had the temerity and the faith in their team to step outside tried and true protocol and build the computer from off-the-shelf components from other companies, achieving tremendous time and cost savings. By then selling the product through retail outlets rather than using IBM's sales staff, they were reportedly able to reach what had been a five-year sales estimate in just months.

It's OK to go elsewhere for help Usually, when a new project is assigned, the first impulse is to assess whether the task can be handled internally. Understandably, most companies want to keep a close eye on quality and create a completely proprietary end product. IBM took a big risk by putting together its PC from components made by outside firms. They not only ceded a certain level of control, they also put new demands on communication, workflow and collaboration. However, by using components made by companies that specialize in those technologies, they were more likely to produce a better end product and produce it faster.

Set detailed expectations from the start IBM's plan to produce a brand new product, different from anything else they were making at the time, and bring it to market within a year may, at first glance, have seemed like lunacy. But by setting a formidable challenge early on, and approaching it with all options on the table, they were able to come up with an innovative solution. They built their process around your time requirements, rather than the other way around.

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