My approach for leading NPD efforts has continually evolved over the last 15 years. I have been able to continually refine and adapt my methods over time. My current best practice involves the elements of an agile product development process coupled with a set-based, simulation-driven engineering approach that focuses on results with a combination of pace and rigor. I've been calling this combination of a rigorous Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) approach with the principles of a lean product development process High Performance Engineering for New Product Development.
A High-Performance Engineering Team is one that consists few members (especially in the early stages of a project), all with broad but deep and complementary domain expertise, working collaboratively in a Model-Based Systems Engineering environment. The team shares an appreciation for how to capture the essential elements in a NPD project's requirements (both at the project- and the product-level), develops multiple creative concepts to best meet typically aggressive and often conflicting requirements, and is comfortable working at a high cadence emphasizing demonstrations of deliverables over completion of tasks.
High Performance Engineering Qualities
Although each NPD project has different requirements (depending on industry, product, scope, etc.), I have found that for the large-scale, heavy machinery projects I have led, the following elements are essential for High-Performance Engineering:
- System Engineering and Architecture (Structural Mechanics & Power Systems)
- Controls and Software Engineering
- Expert use of Modeling and Simulation Tools (MBSE)
- Human-Centered Design (Human-Machine Interface)
- Set-Based Approach to Concept Development
- Agile Process for Product Development (Lean, Fast, Productive)
- Ability to Physically Prototype (Demonstrations, V&V)
Any reasonably complicated NPD effort whether race cars, robots, medical devices, or wind turbines, will require these elements in some proportion. In order to deliver on the promise of HPE, a persistent and rigorous view to requirements in the following areas must be maintained:
- Cost (both product and life-cycle)
- Detail Design (both components and code)
- Regulatory and Safety
- Supply Chain
- Testing and Validation
It is very important to deal with as many of the requirements simultaneously across all concepts being developed. Consistent with an Agile development process is the use of a sprint, or cycle, where all the deliverables come together at the end of the cycle for integration and demonstration. In order to achieve a high cadence, the focus must be working collaboratively on the deliverables for integration rather than individual tasks.
In my experience, this has been one of the bigger issues to deal with when working on NPD projects with larger teams and narrower domain expertise. The trend under those circumstances is that the team members (or departments) with more specialized skills tend to want to conduct their activities sequentially. I have found it more difficult to keep the pace of development high when the focus on collaboration, pace, integration, and deliverables is compromised.
As I have been mentioning in previous blog posts, many of the software tools I have been using on these high-cadence NPD projects have been pushed to their limits (and sometimes beyond) of conventional or intended usage. I have often had to invent the methods and tools to support certain calculations, simulations, and integration elements of the effort. I'm interested in hearing input from readers on how they are working through these challenges at their organizations.