Case Detail

Case Summary

Technical Note: Putting Discovery-Driven Planning to Work

Case Number: 7-108-002, Year Published: 2008

HBS Number: KEL355

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Authors: Robert A Cooper; Rita Gunther McGrath; Ian MacMillan

Key Concepts

Revenue Growth, Enterprise Portfolio Management, Business Units, R&D Management, Strategy Alignment, Innovation Management, Portfolio Management


The major reason for failure in initiating new growth projects in uncertain environments is the basic tenet of classic project management—the initial strategy is assumed to be correct, and large sums are expended without dealing with the fundamental assumptions.

Discovery-driven planning is vastly different from conventional planning. In conventional planning, success means delivering numbers close to what you thought you would deliver. In discovery-driven planning, success means generating the maximum amount of useful learning for the minimum expenditure. Discovery-driven planning is most useful when the situation is highly uncertain.

Projects implemented in highly uncertain conditions must be driven by an adaptive process in which the key uncertainties/assumptions are constantly in the forefront of project leaders’ minds. The key learning objectives are how to (1) define the key uncertainties, (2) prioritize the key uncertainties, and (3) develop a milestone-driven implementation plan based on these uncertainties.

Number of Pages: 17

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Management, Strategy

Geographic: Global

Industry: Magnetic Media Industry

Organization Name: Kao Manufacturing

Organization Department: Senior Leadership, Management

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: Project Leaders

Year of Case: 2008