In There’s a Good Idea in There Somewhere! and Setting the Criteria for Success we discussed creating multiple custom machine ideas for reducing or eliminating ‘blind waste’ through ideation and reducing those ideas to a select few that showed promise through business case building.
The users were consulted and presented with concepts of those ideas in order to refine them. The gate group decided which one(s) to pursue based on established criteria.
Fantastic! Now what?
It’s machine development time. Time to put together the project group, name a project manager, and execute the action plan that was approved in the Phase 2 gate.
The project group will consist of technical people — possibly inside engineering staff — that will either work on this project only or be “shared” between this project and their daily “chores.” You may even work with a custom machine manufacturer like 315 Machine Design. Depending on the methodology chosen to develop this custom machine, the next four phases could run concurrently or sequentially. Your results may vary, but as long as there are robust evaluation points along the way, the best solution will come out at the end.
You can jump into the deep end of the pool and begin developing part and assembly drawings based on the information coming out of the business case phase, or you can continue to refine the concepts developed during the ideation and business case phases. The main advantage of developing the drawings is that it shows some immediate, tangible progress on the project, but it could lead to a single design, myopic approach where you feel that you must finish what you have started.
The main advantage of the concept refinement path is you have the opportunity to continue discussions regarding the use and maintenance of the machine. It also will help further clarify the product definition, especially if you are working with an outside firm.
No matter what course you take you will want to follow the refinement cycle discussed in the business case building article, which was about the presentation of the machine and receiving feedback by the user(s), and iterating the concept. Perform that cycle until the machine design is frozen or until the machine itself is finished depending on the type of I2L process you employ. Doing so helps mitigate two major problems that typically occur during the development phase.
Incomplete product definition
There have been many studies into why new products fail. One study in particular lists five major reasons and most of them point to some form of product definition issue.1
Remember, a product definition is not only about what a custom machine must do, but it’s about every aspect from use to maintenance to end of life.
Preventing this issue is about continuous feedback from the user(s). There will be a time that the design must be frozen, but don’t cut short the process of learning more of the needs and wants of the user(s).
We live and work in a rapidly changing world; if conditions impacting your business environment aren’t tracked sufficiently, it can be devastating. Your end market may change to the point where the requirements for the custom machine change, or make the machine completely unnecessary.
As part of the product definition refinement cycle discussed above, it should include discussions of the business environment as a whole. Is anything changing in market that would change the needs of the custom machine?
The best course of action to mitigate changing environments is to develop faster. Reducing the time from idea to launch will allow the company to reap the rewards reducing waste sooner.
One of the deliverables for the end of the phase 2 was a detailed development plan. This should have included a chronological listing of the activities, actions and tasks, as well as listing of the resources needed to complete those tasks.
One very important aspect of the development plan is to set milestones. These milestone dates must be held sacred if a reduced timeline is a goal.
Milestones are the checkpoints along the timeline to make sure the project is on time and on budget.
To be effective, the milestone must not only be measurable, but it must have a timeframe associated with it. These should not be confused with project reviews. Milestones are measured in real time and after certain tasks are completed, and project reviews are scheduled on a calendar basis, such as monthly or quarterly.
This is where working with an outside firm may help in the long run, especially if you lack sufficient resources to dedicate to the development. But don’t pass it all to the outside firm. The project manager has to be one in charge of keeping the project on track and on budget.
In the next installment we will be discussing the testing and validation phase. It will discuss the methods used from concept through actual product.
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