Lakshmi Narayana Nittala

Ph.D. Candidate in Innovation, Technology & Operations, Rady School of Management

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Innovation, Technology & Operations in the Job Market during the 2016-2017 academic year. With a prior doctorate in engineering and work experience in technology development, I am particularly fascinated by problems companies face while pursuing innovation based on digital technologies. My research program employs quantitative modeling and experimental methodologies to address questions related to technology-enabled innovation and digitally-enriched product/service management.

Curriculum Vitae


Job Market Paper: Designing Internal Innovation Contests (link)

(with Vish Krishnan, Revise and Re-submit with Major Revision at Management Science)

A part of enhancing an organization’s innovation capability is leveraging the latent potential in employees across the organization and developing “inclusive” mechanisms that motivate participation beyond the conventional R & D departments. In this job market paper, I focus on contests as one such mechanism for sourcing innovations and provide design recommendations for managers interested in organizing them within the firm. Such intra-enterprise contests offer a contrast with external contests where firms pose questions and engage an outside world of solvers not contractually employed by the firm. While internal contests allow firms to pursue proprietary concepts, I learned from field studies at companies like Qualcomm that participation of employees in internal contests can adversely impact a firm's established product businesses and these contests must be carefully designed and managed. How can managers architect contests by setting awards and specifying problems to ensure optimal outcomes from contests? Based on field work in the software and electronics industries, I develop an application-driven model which I formulate and analyze for managerial decisions and insights.

We find that budget constraints combined with intellectual property considerations make internal contests increasingly attractive for solution-seeking firms. Interestingly, the contest reward in internal contests is curvilinear in the design problem uncertainty. Solutions of better average and extreme quality can be obtained with an internal contest under budget constraints. Firms with larger contestant pools can share more of their opportunity costs with employees, making internal contests more appropriate for larger firms. Also, a contest designer can under most cases exert less effort to specify the design problem in an internal contest relative to posing the problem to an external group. We discuss how managers of solution-seeking firms can benefit with the careful design of design contests. This paper is currently under first round review at Management Science.

Designing Product Lines with Higher Aggregate Environmental Quality

In order to be relevant and attain sustainable growth, a firm’s product design decisions should continuously internalize the broader societal priorities and trends. In this joint work with Vish Krishnan and Paul Lacourbe, we study the implications of the emerging sharing economy and the need to design environmentally friendly products on a firm’s product line design decisions. Our results show that it if the firm introduces only one product then it is optimal to sell only to the high valuation segment but still cover the whole market by engaging the low valuation segment through product sharing. The paper is currently being readied for a resubmission to Production & Operations Management.  

Managing Exploration and Execution

In this paper I employ the perspective that innovation includes the notion of Exploration for novel ideas as well as their implementation or Execution. In this joint work with Sanjiv Erat and Vish Krishnan, we use a game theoretic model to analyze an open innovation setting where a seeker sources innovations through a contest. The interaction between exploration and execution phases through their associated uncertainties leads to interesting implications on the exploration phase. We use this Exploration-Execution paradigm to study contest architecture along two dimensions: (i) Reward structure and (ii) Information structure. The model predicts that from the seeker's perspective, increasing the reward beyond a threshold can decrease the probability of finding a good solution. The design recommendation of the reward is also sensitive to the seeker’s objective. If the seeker is interested in a breakthrough solution then a single reward is optimal. If the seeker is interested in multiple approaches and the uncertainty associated with their execution is low enough then it is optimal to set a milestone reward after the exploration phase. In other cases a single reward at the end of the execution phase is the optimal reward structure. 


Competition and Creativity: A Process View

Management of innovation sourcing mechanisms also involves understanding patterns in human behavior when engaged in tasks related to innovation. In this on-going work with Sanjiv Erat and Vish Krishnan we employ laboratory experiments to study behavioral aspects associated with the search pattern of solvers in a contest setting. Subjects are recruited to work on puzzles that require unique insights for successful completion. The unique design and implementation of the task allows us collect comprehensive data on the search path of each participant. Subjects were incentivized to work on the puzzles and were placed either in a competitive setting or a non-competitive setting. Initial results show that as the familiarity with the task increases, the competitive setting results in a superior average solution quality. When the familiarity with the puzzle task is low, participants in the competitive setting make quicker but suboptimal moves and spend less time on the task. We are currently collecting more data to complete all treatments. The final analysis will include process path characterization to gather insights on the effect of task design on the search characteristics and to highlight conditions under which competitive settings are preferred to obtain higher average solution quality.


Teaching Interests: Operations Management, Supply Chain Management, Product Development, Project Management, Service Operations, Business Statistics.

Instructor (Overall Instructor Rating: 4.78/5): Co-taught “Topics in Operations and Technology: Service Innovation” in the Executive Working MBA program, Summer 2016.
 - Conducted case discussions on data driven decision making.
 - Taught sessions on product design using tools for Prototyping On Paper (POP).

Course Preparation:  Authored mini cases as part of the course content development for the undergraduate course “Innovation in Service Enterprises.”

Teaching Assistant: Taught review sessions as the teaching assistant for the following courses:

Operations, Information Systems and Data Analysis (Fall 2013: Executive Working MBA program)
Innovation in Service Enterprises (Spring 2015, Spring 2016: Undergraduate)
Service Operations and Innovation (Summer 2014, Summer 2015: Executive Working MBA program)
Quantitative Analysis (Fall 2014: Executive Working MBA program)
Project Management (Spring 2014: Executive Working MBA program)
Supply Chain Management (Summer 2014: Executive Working MBA program)

Rady School of Management
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive, MC 0553
La Jolla, CA 92093-0553