Hybrid working interlinks external crowds of talent and internal employees, increasing the quality, speed, and agility of the product development process.
In a bid to increase the agility, quality, and speed of its product development process, companies are exploring with the use of external talent through crowdworking—a form of crowdsourcing in which work is offered through an open call to a crowd of potential participants who decide whether they want to submit their work for potential renumeration.
A variation of crowdworking is hybrid working, in which the work is accomplished by interlinking crowdworking participants with internal employees on crowdworking platform designed for hybrid working. An in-depth study by researchers in Germany and Switzerland of a successful Airbus engineering design project reveals the full potential of this innovative work arrangement.
Airbus, the multi-billion-dollar European commercial aircraft manufacturer, used a hybrid working-based product development process to develop an innovative design for a cargo drone. Although one of the leading aviation companies in the world, Airbus had yet to venture into the commercial, non-military drone market, which was growing exponentially. Believing it did not have sufficient internal capabilities to develop the new product without external talent, Airbus partnered with Local Motors, a small American company that manufactures low-volume vehicle designs developed through its crowdworking platform, called ‘Launch Forth’.
The project interlinked through the platform four sets of employees:
External crowd. Airbus and Local Motors recruited through an open call
external participants, who were invited to submit their designs.
Internal Airbus employees. Airbus also conducted an open call for internal employees who, as with the external participants, could decide whether they wanted to submit their designs.
Assigned Airbus employees. Employees assigned by Airbus managed the product development process, offering guidance and support to the internal employees and external crowd during the development of their designs.
Assigned Local Motors employees. Employees assigned by Local Motors brought their experience with crowdworking projects to the cargo drone project, helping to structure and manage the interactions between the other three sets of voluntary and assigned employees in the project.
The main four phases of the project were:
Submission phase: The ‘crowd’—including external participants and self-selected internal Airbus employees—submitted drone designs. A total of 425 cargo drone engineering designs were submitted.
Validation phase: Airbus engineers determined which designs were feasible. Of the 425 designs submitted, 167 designs were validated as feasible.
Community voting phase: The project awarded first, second and third prizes in three categories of prizes: the main award, voted on by Airbus executives; the cargo prize voted on by cargo industry experts; and the community prize voted on by the external crowd.
Judging phase: Five final winning designs were selected by Airbus executives and industry experts.
Airbus executives considered the hybrid working process for developing the design of this new product an overwhelming success. The project was not without challenges, including early pushback from Airbus employees who wondered why the project could not be completed in-house, and risks, such as potential intellectual property issues or the potential exposure of the company’s future strategic direction.
The benefits, however, far outweighed the potential risks. At the process level, the major benefits included:
Speed: It took Airbus one year to develop a cargo drone design internally; it received 425 designs in six weeks through the hybrid working process.
Quality: Of those 425 designs, 167 were evaluated as not just feasible but also high quality by Airbus engineers.
Agility: Airbus needed to adapt some long-standing processes and structures for the project, giving the company a more adaptive and flexible way of developing products in the future.
Multiple other benefits accrued from the project, including a greater variety of ideas, opportunities for sharing knowledge, lower costs, the building of a community Airbus could engage in the future, increasing motivation among the self-selected Airbus employees who participated, and high-quality insights about the commercial drone market about which Airbus knew little at the start of the project.
In addition, hybrid working leverages the strength of external talent (e.g., new ideas) and internal talent (e.g., the specific knowledge of internal employees), while mitigating the weaknesses of these two groups (e.g., unfeasible ideas from external talent and internal hierarchies and restrictions that slow down internal employees).
Based on their study, the researchers suggest the following steps to ensure a successful hybrid worker project:
Identify which work is suitable for hybrid working. Airbus products made for the military, for example, would not be suitable for hybrid working given the detailed information sent out to external participants. Top management support is also essential at this stage.
Closely interlink external crowds and internal employees. Companies should make every effort to foster collaboration among external crowd participants and between external crowd participants and internal employees. The platform logged every exchange (called ‘discussion entries’) among participants in the project. Participants who submitted validated designs generated far more discussion entries than unsuccessful participants—and the five winning participants generated the highest number of discussion entries.
Provide appropriate information about goals and requirements. Airbus clearly established its technical requirements and why it was pursuing the project, did not make the requirements too rigid, which would have limited the creativity of participants.
Use a professional crowdworking platform and its provider. A professional crowdworking platform brings not only the technical features required to establish a hybrid working project but also experience in managing this novel working solution.
Adapt your company’s organizational structure, processes, and activities to support hybrid working. For example, flatten hierarchies for authorizing projects and communicating with project participants. Another suggestion: Create internal units or even subsidiaries with start-up cultures for the project.
How Companies Can Benefit from Interlinking External Crowds and Internal Employees. Volkmar Mrass, Christoph Peters, and Jan Marco Leimeister. MIS Quarterly Executive (March 2021). https://aisel.aisnet.org/misqe/vol20/iss1/5.
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