Stage-Gate International - Summit 2014

Hallmark Innovation Isnít Just About Product Development, Itís Also About How We Innovate
Michael Phillips, Director, Professional Development Programs and Affiliations, Stage-Gate International interviews Monica Alderson, Hallmark Business Services Director for Consumer Solutionsr

For more than 100 years, Hallmark has helped people connect with one another and give a voice to their feelings through innovative new products. Today’s Hallmark is a $4 billion business with greeting cards and other products sold in 39,000 retail stores across the U.S. and in 100 countries worldwide. One of Hallmark's owned companies include; Crayola®, which continues to play an important role in their development strategy. The brand reaches people online at Hallmark.com, on television through Hallmark Hall of Fame movies and cable’s Hallmark Channels.

Monica AldersonMonica Alderson is Business Services Director, Consumer Solutions for Hallmark Cards. She is responsible for designing, implementing and overseeing a robust project management function that supports a Stage-Gate process for innovation, commercialization and customer special requests. This includes managing key linkages and facilitating alignment with cross-functional team members and senior colleagues to plan, execute and resolve issues regarding or affecting successful product development launches. Prior to her current role, Monica served as Director of IT Strategy,  the VP of IT for Hallmark Canada and IT Project Delivery Director, giving her the necessary foundation and broad experience to effectively foster change and drive project management excellence.

MP: Let’s start by telling our readers a little about yourself and your company.

MA: Hallmark Cards is in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve been with the company for 13 years primarily in project management, information technology and product development. Hallmark was founded in 1910. It is privately held supplying products in 30 languages that are distributed to over 100 countries around the world. We have 38,000 stores with our flagship being our Gold Crown stores. Hopefully you have visited one or will visit one during this holiday season.

The company is best known for greeting cards. We create about 10,000 new or redesigned greeting cards each year, and we do offer a lot of other products – gifts, wrapping paper, ornaments, recordable books, decorative items, memory keepsakes, frames, etc. Hopefully you’ve also heard of two of our other Hallmark companies as well - Crayola and the Hallmark Channel.

MP: What product developed by your company is your most favorite and why?

MA: At this time of year I always look forward to seeing the new wrapping paper. I’m one of those people that love to wrap presents and include all the attachments, including bows and cards. However, what’s been near and dear to my heart since I joined Hallmark is our Keepsake Ornament Collection. I have teenage children and each year we add the mom, dad, and children ornaments. My children also like to collect ALL the sports ornaments and those ornaments go on their dedicated special ‘sports Christmas tree’.

MP: In your opinion, what is the single biggest innovation-related challenge that organizations face today?

MA: I think that the biggest challenge is not being able to come up with product ideas. Companies struggle with gathering usable consumer insights and then validating this data against their product ideas throughout the entire product development life cycle.

MP: What advice would you give to others on how to tackle this challenge?

MA: You have to look at the whole product life cycle, the different deliverables involved for each gate and the data/metrics being used to validate the projects viability. It speaks to the value of utilizing a variety of different tools that can help companies understand overall where their products are in the portfolio and product life cycle. We use Planview Enterprise to help provide visibility into our product pipeline, resource capacity, the product roadmap, and the roadmap’s alignment to our corporate strategy to support the entire product lifecycle. From a life cycle perspective, the metrics we have put in place at each gate truly validate if we’re going against, being reminded of, or adhering to the key consumer insights identified.

MP: What do you think Summit attendees would be most interested to know/learn about your upcoming Summit presentation?

MA: Hopefully the lessons we learned over the past 3 years will help attendees gain insights on why we started where we did and what we are evolving towards as an innovation company. Perhaps others respective journeys might need to follow a similar path.

MP: Product innovation excellence comes down to the ability to execute effectively around the Innovation Performance Framework™. Which area of the framework do you feel proves most problematic for companies to master and then sustain? Why do you think this is so?

  1. Product Innovation & Technology Strategy
  2. New Product Portfolio Management
  3. A Stage-Gate®Idea-to-Launch Process
  4. Culture & Leadership

MA: The first 3 areas are much more objective and measures can be put in place to help track performance. The 4th one regarding culture, and leadership is much more subjective and harder to control. In addition to the internal environment, the climate of the external environment such as the economy and other global factors should also be taken into account. They’re much harder to control and need to be carefully studied when deciding what should be part of your portfolio.

MP: What is your favorite new product out right now and why?

MA: My favorite is the new Signature Card line by Hallmark. Any type of life event is reflected beautifully in these classic cards.

MP: Looking into your crystal ball what do you think will be the greatest challenge facing product developers 10 years down the road?

MA: We are seeing glimmers of it now and it will continue in the future. Inspiration, manufacturing, and other factors will come from anywhere and anyone. Therefore with all these pieces and moving parts in the life cycle, you have to truly understand where all your data is coming from and be able to control those access points with the different people involved. The greatest challenge will be to harness all of this to create and launch products that not only meet but exceed your customer expectations.



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