Concurrent Engineering to speed up Product development

During the entire process from conceptualizing to the launch of the new product the activities of the production and marketing functions are as important as those of the product development/design function. In fact, many of these activities are interdependent and the new product design must fit in with the production and marketing functions of the company. The new designs must also fit with a company’s marketing and operations strategies and the existing systems and policies. If a new design warrants a change in the strategies or policies or systems, it needs the wholehearted concurrence of the production and marketing functions.

The product development can be speeded up by:

* having concurrence of the various functions,
* doing several of the activities in parallel, and
* having integration and information sharing across the functions.

It is obvious that a serialized approach to product design/development would mean a considerable lead time to introduce the product in the market. If manufacturing has to wait until a product design is released, it will only make the company miss a market opportunity. Many companies have come to appreciate the disadvantage of a sequential approach to a design project. The other advantage is that it can help in doing the design, manufacturing, quality and marketing functions. A concurrent approach to product designing is termed as concurrent engineering. It is also called simultaneous engineering as it invariably involves doing several activities pertaining to different functions simultaneously.

Cross-functional teams for Product Development: Concurrent engineering may involve cross-functional teams to solve and resolve any issue that may impede the new product design / development project in the company. Cross functional teams serve to integrate the various activities of the product development effort and help in information sharing on a regular basis. The frequent interaction between persons from two different departments may help them educate each other and thus enhance other’s capabilities. While in the traditional design approach one department audits the other department in a team approach there is collaboration right from the start. An essential benefit of involving various constituencies in product development is that various departments become familiar with the product early enough.

However, a team approach to product design is not without its problems. It works well only when:

* the team members have good interpersonal skills;
* the roles and responsibilities of the team members are clearly understood by the individual members;
* the team is adequately empowered to do what it needs to do;
* the team leader is effective;
* the team members are dedicated to their responsibilities; and
* the team does not exist only on paper

Thus, a cross functional team approach places greater demands on the members in terms of learning new skills, both technical and interpersonal. However, most organizations today have the ability to absorb changes rapidly (they have very little choice) and hence they would be able to handle team approaches quite effectively.

While the concurrent engineering has several merits, it can run the risk of scrapping the process planning as it is done before the final design is released. This can happen in an extremely dynamic business environment. This means the concurrent engineering effort itself has to speed up.

Cross functional teams can deliver the ideal solutions for a new product development as the team members comprise of specialists from various functions. They know what can be sold in the markets and how the new product must be projected as better functionally as well as aesthetically compared to existing products of competitors.