Collaboration is the basis for bringing together the knowledge, experience and skills of multiple team members to contribute to the development of a new product more effectively than individual team members performing their narrow tasks in support of product development. As such collaboration is the basis for concepts such as concurrent engineering or integrated product development.

Effective collaboration requires actions on multiple fronts:

  • Early involvement and the availability of resources to effectively collaborate
  • A culture that encourages teamwork, cooperation and collaboration
  • Effective teamwork and team member cooperation
  • Defined team member responsibilities based on collaboration
  • A defined product development process based on early sharing of informatin and collaboratin
  • Collocation or virtual collocation
  • Collaboration technology

The following sections discuss these different aspects of collaboration.


Early involvement of downstream functional disciplines is the basis for concurrent engineering and integrated product development. However, early involvement is ineffective without collaboration. But early involvement requires that adequate resources are available so that team members have time to effectively collaborate. For example, we often find a sitution where a manufacturing engineer is assigned to a team, but is so busy fighting fires that he or she does not have the time to effectively participate and collaborate. If collaboration is to work, management must provide adequate resources to support the project.


Collaboration requires effective team work. Team members must trust and respect one another. There must be open communication and a willingness to accept input from others.

There are often conflicting goals in product development. Therefore decision-making must be based on a collaborative approach. This is shown with the following model.


This model represents two axes: Cooperativeness and Assertiveness. Different approaches to dealing with an issue are mapped against these two axes. A low degree of assertiveness and cooperativeness represents avoidance of an issue or the approach of “I don’t care”. A high degree of cooperativeness and a low degree of assertion represents accommodation or the approach of “You win, I lose”. A high degree of assertiveness and a low degree of cooperativeness represent competition or the approach of “I win, you lose”.

Many people believe compromise is the ideal. Compromise represents a moderate degree of both assertiveness and cooperativeness. It represents the approach of “Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose”. This, however, is not the ideal. A good team includes people that have strong beliefs and are professionally committedhe team members believe is important to the company and the development program (but not necessarily to just the narrow functional perspective of their discipline). We also want a high degree of cooperation. This represents the basis for a collaborative approach or the “win-win” approach. The key to the win-win approach is to creatively search for solutions that can mutually satisfy the needs of the team rather than focusing on just two competing solutions that involve trade-off’s or are mutually exclusive.


The NPD process must be based on collaboration and early involvement. The process defines what activities are performed by who, when they are performed, and how they are performed. Defining this process presents the opportunty to enhance collaboration through:

  • Parallel performance of activities which require early sharing of information and feedback
  • Deliverables that require input, review and approval by other team members
  • Early supplier involvement and less formal procedures that enhance collaboration
  • Defined responsibilities (e.g., responsibility matrix) that require multiple team members involvement in activities and deliverables


Collocation facilitates communication and collaboration. Physical collocation is the ideal, but virtual collocation through the use of various communication mechanisms and collaboration tools is the next best alternative with disprsed team members. Our paper on Collocation provides further information.


There are a variety of tools and technologies to facilitate communication and collaboration. Collaboration can happen synchronously where all participants view information and/or meet at the same time or asynchronously where participants view information and provide feedback at different points in time. These tools and technologies include:

  • Email exchange of drawings, models and project information (asynchronous)
  • Teleconferencing and videoconferencing (synchronous)
  • Web-hosted meetings (synchronous)
  • Project hosting tools to create one pool of all released project documentation, with email alerts for updates (asynchronous)
  • Drawing viewing sites (intranet and web-based) with view and mark-up capabilities (asynchronous)
  • CAD collaboration sessions (synchronous)
  • Workflow and groupware software (asynchronous)
  • Product data management, product information management, collaborative product commerce (generally asynchronous)

The selection and use of these tools will be based on technology availability and cost; geographic dispersion and related time zone differences; need for access by partners, suppliers and customers; product complexity and degree of technical issues; and other factors.

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