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Monday, July 26, 2010

Keys to Effective Product Development

We can define effective product development as achieving the shortest possible development cycle time at the lowest possible cost consistent with the desired product quality. Achieving effective product development requires effective leadership, good teamwork and the use of effective methods and tools. Since effective leadership promotes good teamwork it is fair to say that effective leadership, methods and tools are necessary. These are pretty general statements so it helps to dig one level deeper and look at some requirements for effective product development from a different perspective. I believe some of the most important elements of effective product development are:
1. Effective communications between managers, systems engineers, design engineers, suppliers and personnel responsible for production as indicated in Figure 1-1. If customers are paying for all or a portion of the development cost then they must be included in this diagram also.

Figure 1-1 Communications must be maintained between all personnel involved in product development.
2. Never having to redo something that was done correctly on a previous development program.
3. Using modern methods that have proven effective in minimizing information latency. (Information latency is the time between when information is available and when it is communicated to those that need the information to do their work.)
4. Working as a team and using good teamwork practices.
5. Developing schedules and assigning resources that accommodate working as a team and the uncertainties of future design decisions.
6. Using tools and methods that facilitate preventing problems rather than finding and fixing problems.
7. Maintaining the discipline of always conducting peer reviews of engineering work and providing time for peer reviews in project schedules.
8. Giving task leaders and engineers the authority to seek input from anyone they believe they need help from in order to achieve their best work.

9. Technical, financial and market value statements must be considered at each stage of the development.
Elements 1, 7 and 8 are tied to leadership and can be studied in depth in my book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership”.  Element 9 is a statement of the basic discipline teams must follow to keep product development on track.
 The other five elements relate to methods and tools and methods and tools can contribute to element 1. I think these first six important elements are only achievable if systems engineering methods and tools are used in product development in addition to good design practices and tools. Subsequent posts describe some of the systems engineering methods and tools that contribute to effective product development.  Enterprises doing work for the U. S. Department of Defense and NASA typically use systems engineering methods but this practice is not always followed in other enterprises or government agencies. 
If in your experience you believe there are other important elements please share them in your comments.

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