Organising the PD Process

The PD Process, the decision-making, the outcomes, the budget and the project constraints are set and now someone has to start creating the product! There are two dimensions in carrying out the product development activities:

• PD Process capability;

• functional/technical knowledge and skills (expertise).

Companies have various degrees of functional excellence and technical know-how; but independent of these is the skill in organising, carrying out, maintaining and improving the complex business process of product development. McGrath et al. suggested in 1992 that companies could be graded on their product development capability according to these two dimensions. Companies tend to focus in one direction - technological superiority or business process capability, but the world-class companies are trying to increase their capabilities in both dimensions.

6.6.1 Identifying activities, knowledge and skills

The choice of activities is not only determined by the knowledge needed in the outcomes but also the resources and time available. The description of the activity defines the outcome expected, the timeframe to be met and the resources that can be used (Earle and Earle, 1999). The inputs and outputs of the activity are shown in Fig. 6.7, the people input and the physical input, which result in the necessary outcomes and decisions. Each activity has certain techniques chosen for it to achieve the desired outcomes.

Activities are often identified as product, consumer, technical (or processing), marketing and finance, but this does not give the integration that is necessary for product development. For example in Stage 2: Product design and process development:

• First main activity: initial prototype development.

Specific sub-activities: modelling, product formulation, ball park processing experiments, protective packaging design, consumer panels.

Skills

Knowledge Equipment

Skills

Knowledge Equipment

Techniques

Materials ^

W

Time

Outcomes Decisions

Time

Fig. 6.7 The activity and its inputs and outputs.

Ball park studies

Screening 'Getting the feel' //

Product design specifications

Fig. 6.8 Main activities in Stage 2: Product design and process development.

• Second main activity: developing the final prototype.

Specific sub-activities: technical development, marketing strategy development, in-home consumer testing, production testing, market predicting, costing, finance analysis.

Figure 6.8 shows the main activities for developing the product prototypes and for developing the final prototype product. The sub-activities can usefully be grouped into development and testing as can be seen in Fig. 6.9. Design of the product and development of the process are interwoven with each other and with the technical, consumer and financial testing and analysis. The sub-activities can vary from project to project but the ones in Fig. 6.9 are common. Included in Fig. 6.9 are the possible techniques that can be used in these activities. It is important that the necessary activities in a project are identified and then techniques chosen to give the necessary knowledge. These must be within the capability of the company. There is often a tendency to keep on using the same techniques as it is simpler and easier for the project team, but they may not be the optimum for the project - they may be producing unnecessary knowledge or, what is worse, too little knowledge. The activities may be the same but there should be careful choice of techniques.

Think break

1. In the initial activities of Fig. 6.9 - 'getting the feel', screening, ball park studies -the product design and the process development are conducted at the same time, and the techniques in the development are experimental designs. Study two recent product development projects in your company, and identify the activities and techniques used in developing the acceptable product prototypes and compare with the outline steps.

2. For future projects, would you change the activities in developing the acceptable product prototypes? What new techniques could be introduced in future projects?

Ball park studies

Fig. 6.8 Main activities in Stage 2: Product design and process development.

Fig. 6.9 Development and testing in product design and process development (Source: After Earle and Earle, 1999).

3. In the two company projects you are studying, how were the design and development integrated with the product testing? When was formal testing started?

4. In testing the product prototypes, what techniques were used? How accurate were the techniques in assessing the product qualities? Are there any new techniques that might improve the accuracy of selecting the acceptable product prototypes?

Knowledge and skills can be identified for activities and outcomes. There is a wide variety of skills from specialist skills such as in organising and moderating consumer focus groups and linear programming in product formulation through to generalist skills such as product design and project control. The important point is to identify the knowledge and skills needed for the activities and then identify the source of these skills. There is a basic level of knowledge inside the company, information can be brought from outside the company and used to create new knowledge, the company can create new knowledge through the activity, and also seek new knowledge through strategic research. The basic technical and marketing knowledge within the company may be tacit staff knowledge or explicit knowledge within the company records. This can be split into general knowledge and domain-specific knowledge, i.e. knowledge from general experience and education, and specific knowledge gained through working and education in the area(s) (Boston et al., 1998).

There can be information sources outside the company such as literature, databases, patent information, catalogues, trade journals and of course the Internet. There is obviously a great deal of information available from these different sources, but knowledge is needed in the company to find it, refine it and present it in a usable form. Information has to be transformed into the knowledge needed for the activity; this is the most difficult part, which is often not recognised. Money and time are spent on setting up or contacting databases. But it is left to the stressed person organising the activity to change this into knowledge - is it a wonder that they often fall back on their own or other team members' tacit knowledge and do not use the information bases? The setting up of information bases means medium of presentation, format of presentation, location of delivery, management of delivery; timeliness, accuracy, relevance and cost must be considered - as related to the users of the information in product development (Boston et al., 1998). Information technology can provide a means of collating and distilling meaningful and usable information across disciplines, which is useful as a basis for innovation, but also as a source of ongoing relevant information (Ganguly, 1999).

Knowledge and skills can be brought into the company by employing new graduates or experienced people from other companies or from academic organisations. The present staff can be retrained to have the necessary skills. This all takes a great deal of forward planning based on the future product development programme. It is not something that can be done when the project has come to a halt because of lack of specific knowledge or the ability to create new knowledge for the company.

Cooper (1999) identified seven 'blockers' to product development:

1. Ignorance.

2. Lack of skills.

3. Faulty or misapplied new product process.

4. Too confident.

5. Lack of discipline, no leadership.

7. Too many projects and not enough resources.

Three of these are lack of knowledge and skills, two are lack of time and resources, and one is lack of project discipline. The lack of knowledge and skills can be in the basic knowledge needed for the project and also in the method of organising the project. The activities needed for the outcomes and decisions cannot be identified, nor suitable techniques to be used in these activities. There is no excuse for this in incremental product development where activities are well recognised, but the important factor in this case is to keep up-to-date with the choice of techniques for the activities. Sometimes people may adopt a new software package for experimental designs but not know the underlying material changes that are occurring in the processing. For example they may be using an experimental design package that plans the experimentation and analyses the results but they may not understand the reactions that are causing the changes in colour, texture and flavour. Certainly in the radical innovation, the pathway may not be clear and there may be a need for significant experimentation before the product design specifications and the pathway for the rest of the project can be set. The radical innovation is entering unknown territory, but skilled knowledge in organising product development projects can keep the project from becoming lost.

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