Meet the product development pioneers working at Massey University and ecentre
ecentre Innovator in Residence Dr Aruna Shekar has been elected for a second time as president of the NZ branch of the Product Development & Management Association.
Dr Shekar is also Asia-Pacific vice-president of PDMA Global, which is based in Chicago.
Dr Shekar came aboard ecentre in her 25th year with Massey University. Her research interests are in product development methods and best practices, consumer research and product innovation in humanitarian engineering contexts.
Her educational focus is on teaching product development through project-based learning experiences and fostering creative thinking. She has led the re-designed first year humanitarian engineering course in conjunction with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a non-profit social organization, for four years, and every year her students have won national and international awards. Earlier in 2019 Dr Shekar was part of a team awarded a $150,000 grant by Auckland District Health Board to research design solutions to improve sleep outcomes for hospital patients.
Connecting the world’s product innovation experts with ecentre, Dr Shekar has shared ‘Pioneers in Product Development Education in New Zealand’ – a guide to the product design innovators at Massey University.
Emeritus Prof Mary Earle, is a pioneer in product development education, and joined the Department of Food Technology at Massey University in 1965. She introduced product development courses into the food technology degree and set up the first four-year degree in Product Development covering all industries in New Zealand. She also helped to introduce food technology and product development degrees at five universities in Thailand.
Dr Mary Earle has been a role model for many students. Mary holds an Honorary Fellowship in the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ), now called Engineering New Zealand (ENZ). For her numerous achievements she was recognized as an Ofﬁcer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.
“New product development is essentially about creativity and ideas, but commercially these have to be implemented through an organisation.”~ Prof. Mary Earle
Emeriti Professors Mary and her husband, Richard, have together published several books on product development and food processing, especially when resources in these fields were scarce. They have shown tremendous generosity over the years and their goodwill continues to spread and benefit many students. The Earle scholarships offer students the opportunities to pursue a Masters and/or PhD research in Product Development and Biotechnology, and to travel overseas for conferences. [https://www.universitiesnz.ac.nz/scholarships/dick-and-mary-earle-scholarship-technology]
Food Product Development was set up more than 50 years ago by Mary, and still continues today, with Dr Brian Wilkinson lecturing and running the capstone student projects with industry.
“Successful and sustained product development does not come easily. It requires a well-defined strategy; strong senior management support; cross-organizational commitment; well defined processes and practices; and, above all, people who understand what is required for success and who commit to a path of continuous improvement.”
Emeritus Prof Allan Anderson is a well-respected and accomplished Product Development educator. After experience in industry and teaching at Massey University, he became Chief Executive of NZ Dairy Research Institute before he joined Massey University to teach Product Development. Allan shared his expertise in project and change management, and led the degree in Product Development engineering. He now heads the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), USA, the first President from outside the US. (www.pdma.org).
PDMA is a global non-profit professional body that facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and resources in product development. Its membership includes product development practitioners, product managers, academics and service providers.
Allan is instrumental in expanding PDMA’s Certification into the Chinese market, where the uptake has been phenomenal. He is part of the Corporate Innovation awards committee, and continues to lead and grow PDMA’s activities worldwide.
Dr Aruna Shekar signed up with PDMA-USA to start a New Zealand affiliate of PDMA in 2006. Along with Prof. Allan Anderson, she set up a Board with representatives from industry to offer New Zealanders the opportunities to share local practices and network with like-minded professionals. Aruna currently leads PDMA-NZ as President and is also part of the global Operations committee, as Vice President of Asia-Pacific Affiliates. These organisations continue to provide access to a range of resources on product development topics such as strategy, portfolio management, processes, teams and culture, tools and metrics, market research and life cycle management.
Dr Shekar has led the degree major in Product Development for many years in Palmerston North and introduced it at Massey University’s Albany campus. Her expertise is in consumer research methods and product innovation in humanitarian engineering contexts. She has taught product development through project-based learning experiences and fostering creative thinking. She has led the new humanitarian engineering courses in conjunction with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a non-profit social organization, for four years, and every year she and her students have won national and international awards. Dr Shekar has also received nominations from students for ‘Lecturer of the Year’ award at Massey University four times in a row (since this award has been implemented recently).
As Innovator-in-Residence (E-centre, Massey University), Aruna is involved in many exciting projects, ranging from improving patient comfort and sleep in hospitals through better products and services; to developing new educational resources for schools to raise the awareness of air quality on health and performance.
Dr Aruna Shekar – “Creative thinking and collaborative problem solving are key to solving many real-world issues”
Past, Present and Future
The role of Product Development has expanded over time, from being within the R&D departments of companies to business strategies and sustainable design; from educating not only tertiary engineering and technology students, but much more widely to include other disciplines and age groups. The core skills of creative problem solving and design are now being taught to high school and primary school students too. The essentials of product development thinking include creative problem solving, a systems approach including big-data techniques, an empathy for user needs, and a consideration for the environment.
In the years gone by the focus was on improving product development processes and speed to market. Today the emphasis has shifted to include new methods, more collaborations across disciplines, and sustainable practices. There are now supervised project-based courses, which allow students to practice their skills and knowledge on real-life challenges and opportunities, thus preparing them better for their future work life.
Mary, Allan, Brian and Aruna have supervised industry-based product development projects for decades and have interacted with a range of companies across food, consumer goods, agricultural products and healthcare industries. Together these four educators have taught thousands of students for more than fifty-five years, with many of their ex-students now leading innovative and successful companies. Allan and Aruna are among the few people in New Zealand who are professionally Certified by the PDMA.
Empathy and Creativity in Innovation
Today with the rapid rise of technologies and the internet, and with the easy availability of information, it has become more important to teach students how to think and apply what they learn in the classroom. Creative problem solving and the generation of solutions that fit the context and stakeholder needs have become more important than ever before. These skills are useful across all disciplines, and not just in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects.
Creativity and empathy lie at the heart of product innovation. New product or service development must have the human dimension at its core. Engineers and developers must not only consider the use of products as they intended and designed but consider the consequences of misuse or abuse. Students have been taught to think about the impact of their inventions in the short-term and in the longer term on humans, cultural values and society. In today’s digital revolution, some of the giant technology companies have come up with amazingly creative solutions and have made connecting to people very easy and rapid. Along with this fast-paced growth comes the dangers of the same technologies being used for malicious purposes (e.g. live streaming on social media of the Christchurch massacre). Of course innovators cannot be expected to think of all the scenarios of product usage, but should address any product-related issues that may arise when they hear about them. Hence empathy, integrity, ethics and responsibility are critical when new technologies, products and services are created. Innovators must think beyond improving efficiency and profits alone. They should consider the human impact of what they create.
The future promises growth in artificial intelligence and robotics, and such hi-tech computer applications; however, creative thinking and empathy will still be the domain of humans.
To get more involved with Product Development in New Zealand, see www.pdma-nz.org.
Interested in PDMA’s 2019 Annual Conference in Orlando? Check out www.pdma.org.
Would you like to get amongst New Zealand’s leading innovators? Look at enrolling in the ecentre’s Sprint Foundation. https://www.ecentre.org.nz/sprint-foundation
You’ll learn all about the methodologies and tools of market validation, and have the opportunity to apply them to your own business venture or concept. It’s designed to reduce the risks associated with launching a new business, saving you time, energy, and money.