HP & ‘Kittyhawk’ , Case Study Example

1.The Kittyhawk project was part of a larger initiative to strengthen flagging technical innovation in the firm.  Indeed. HP as a technology company deeply valued technical innovation as means to differentiate itself among other competitors in the technology space.

HP’s disk memory division (DMD) served a small but profitable niche for the company.  Indeed, the division concentrated on products in the 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch space.  Although the DMD still served as a niche player, the Kittyhawk was viewed as a means to raise the profile of the department and become a prominent market leader in the space.  This led to the introduction of the 1.3 inch Kittyhawk drive.  Due to concerns over slipping profits and the need to explore new avenues in the DMD division, the Kittyhawk was born. The importance of the Kittyhawk could be seen from the preferential treatment given to the manager and engineers who would ultimately develop the unit: They were essentially allowed to function outside of the HP corporate hierarchy in order to simulate the conditions needed for start-up development of the product.

2.Overall, HP did follow some of Christensen’s most seminal recommendations.  That is, the product developers did try to develop a product that was outside of the existing “fortified hill” of disk drives that populated the 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch space.  That is why they settled on a disk drive that had features and was not of a (typical) size and did not have the typical features.

From an organizational (structural) approach, HP did make substantial accommodations to allow the Kittyhawk to develop and flourish outside of the bureaucratic constraints of the HP culture.  HP allowed the team to actually move outside and to choose its own team from a set of engineers in order to make the product launch a success.  That is, although the product development team did conceptualize an idea that was “technologically” disruptive, they did not truly understand the market or what end users would use the product.  At the same time, while they were able to use HP’s financial resources, they were not able to untether themselves from the financial standards that HP adopted to judge the “success” of its other projects.


3.After initial research, the project manager identified five key possibilities for the Kittyhawk mobile information technologies, communications technologies, consumer electronics, automotive electronics, and developments related to standard computer technology.  The team then narrowed the list down to two potential industries: mobile computing or where it was so inexpensive to store that had not been economically feasible.  Ultimately the group decided to target the mobile market for two reasons: 1) they liked the potential market opportunities offered by the mobile market; 2) they did not think they could (immediately) meet the stringent pricing needed to meet the $50 target for storage drives.


The wrong turns in the process to actually identify a viable market were numerous.  First, the market research firm was unable to conduct normal market analysis with their established methodology, this was because their normal methodology could not identify a market to be analyzed for the product. After that, it became obvious that the PDA market was going to be as robust as the team previously predicted.  Ultimately the drive became used by customers in market that were far beyond the stream initially conceptualized by the marketing team. They did not have the right conversations with the right people.  They were primarily talking with self-interested actors that focused on what their potential purchasing would be; at the end of the day, however, they did not have an objective baseline from which to judge whether they should launch the project or not.

The worst assumptions they made were: they could necessarily capture mobile business at an attractive pricing point and move downwards based on that.


4. Overall, there was one major business and one major psychological error made in the introduction of the Kittyhawk. The main business error was the attempt to innovate beyond what the market already produced, but without an exact idea of what that meant. Indeed, although the product developers thought that the existing hill was already fortified, they attempted to innovate a product that had no market and in the end, proved not be used for any of the uses originally envisioned. This was a business failure in the ability to nail down a market and move forward with a valid business plan moving forward.

The psychological error accompanied the attempt to move the product out of the HP production ecosystem in order to facilitate the feeling of a start-up. Although HP had a recognized product development division, the decision to take it out of the ecosystem


5.Overall, my recommendations would focus on developing a more robust marketing and baseline plan for how to market and obtain a viable baseline for the product launch.  In addition, I would not have placed the development of the system outside of the HP ecosystem; this is because it would need to work through the expected channels to figure out if this product would have succeeded in the HP ecosystem regardless.




Christiansen, C. (2011). The Innovator’s Dilemma.  Boston: HBR.


Christiansen, C. (2001). Disruptive Technologies.  Class Handout.


Cisco Company.  Available at: http://www.cisco.com.


HBR Review.  Kittyhawk-HP Case Study.


HP Company. Available at http://www.hp.com.