Managing product families: The case of the Sony Walkman

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Citation: Susan Sanderson, Mustafa Uzumeri (1995) Managing product families: The case of the Sony Walkman. Research Policy (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/0048-7333(94)00797-B
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/0048-7333(94)00797-B
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/0048-7333(94)00797-B
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Managing product families: The case of the Sony Walkman
Tagged: Business (RSS) Product Development (RSS)


Sanderson and Uzumeri (1995) contribute to the product development literature with a case study of the Sony Walkman that offers the basic conclusion that Sony succeeded because it both developed new models as fast as their competitors but had product lines of families last much longer. The argument is that previously literature has focused just on rapid development as a dependent variable measuring product development success but that longevity has been an important part of Sony's success.

Sanderson and Uzumeri provide a detailed description of the walk man using data from:

  • Models, features, and prices taken from newspaper advertisements.
  • Interview data from managers, product managers, and designers within Sony.
  • Data from company records and newsletters.

The authors use this data to tell a detailed, quantitative history of personal music players in general with a focus on the Walkman. The authors. The authors show that Sony released more models than its competitors and that these models lasted nearly 2 years on the market while its competitors lasted a mean of 1.2 years.

The authors explain that the vast majority of Sony's new products in the Walkman line (85%) where minor rearrangement of existing functionality. For example, the Walkman Sport (in a more rugged yellow case) and My First Sony aimed a children were two lines that used older technologies but packed it differently.

The authors also point out that industrial design work was located in the countries that the Walkman was sold in while production and engineering tended to be located in Japan. This allowed the firm to have designers close to markets and in a position to make the types of rearrangements that sustained the product line.

The authors summarize their results by focusing on four specific tactics explored by Sony's management:

  1. A variety-intensive product development strategy.
  2. A multilateral management of product design by locating design in each of its major markets.
  3. Judicious use of industrial designers.
  4. Minimizing design cost.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Sanderson and Uzumeri's article has been cited more than 260 times since it was published 15 years ago. Almost all of these citations seem to have been in the product development and design literature.