Implementing Integrated Product Development Practices: Lessons Learned


Product and process technology is rapidly evolving. Competition is becoming more and more globally based. Customers are emphasizing improved quality and reliability, but reduced defense spending requires an emphasis on value and affordability. This dynamic and challenging environment requires the implementation of integrated product development concepts to reduce development cycle time and improve product quality and value.

Integrated Product Development (IPD) is based on the integrated design of products and manufacturing and support processes. It is not a matter of assessing the producibility, testability, supportability and quality of the product after it has been designed nor of focusing on related data item deliverables nor of extensive testing to improve quality or reliability. These approaches extend design cycle time, increase product development cost, and may not result in the most optimum way to produce and support the product. Instead, all of the competitive factors or “ilities” must be considered from the very start of product development and designed into the product. The design of the product and the process must be integrated to assure a more optimum approach to manufacture and support the product.

The essential principles of integrated product development can be summarized as follows.

  • Understand your customer and their requirements
  • Integrate R&D, product development, and process investments with an overall business strategy;
  • Use Product Development Teams to facilitate early involvement and parallel design
  • Design products and manufacturing and support processes in parallel
  • Involve suppliers early in the development process
  • Use digital product models to capture and maintain a more complete and consistent representation of the design
  • Integrate CAE, CAD and CAM tools to improve effectiveness and reduce design cycle time
  • Simulate product performance and manufacturing processes electronically to reduce costly design/build/test iterations
  • Use quality engineering and reliability techniques to develop a more robust product and process design
  • Create an efficient and streamlined development approach to reduce cost and design cycle time
  • Improve the design process continuously

All organizations apply integrated product development concepts to some degree. The question becomes how to go about improving the development process and further implement IPD concepts. In this era of “right-sizing”, IPD represents a critical opportunity to re-organize product development on a sounder basis. Development and product costs can be reduced, product quality and performance improved, and time-to-market reduced with an aggressive, purposeful approach to IPD. This requires a formal, structured approach to implementing IPD. This must be based on a comprehensive and complete understanding of what IPD involves.

If the management of a company has a limited view of what IPD represents, the implementation of IPD will be limited and incomplete, or the implementation will be viewed as a minor activity that does not require a formal implementation effort with management involvement. Without an aggressive, structured program, the rate of improvement in developing new products will be much slower.


No organization can implement all aspects of integrated product development immediately. IPD can best be viewed as a journey (continuing process improvement) rather than a destination. Priorities need to be developed for implementing the various facets of a integrated product development environment. The organization must start by understanding its strategic direction (e.g., being the low cost producer, the most innovative producer, the highest quality producer, flexibility to respond to new programs and directions). Next, the organization must assess its strengths and weaknesses.

A Product Development Assessment (PDA) is a thorough review of the development process based on 250 best practices that have been identified from studying companies’ product development activities around the world. The PDA is based on DRM Associates Product Development Best Practices and Assessment software. This level of detail allows identification of specific strategy, organizational, process, methodology and technology issues to address as part of an improvement program. These best practices are organized into the following categories for summarization and reporting purposes:


Most of these best practices are universal – they apply to the development of any kind of product in any type and size of company. Some of these best practices are relevant to only certain types of products or business environments (e.g., maintainability/serviceability practices don’t apply to consummable products, design for manufacturability isn’t as important with one-off product such as a satellite, etc.). Therefore, an importance weighting is used to tailor the importance of the best practice to each company’s products and business environment.

Associated with each of these best practices is a set of questions to aid in this assessment process. A company’s product development activities are evaluated with respect to each of these best practices, and a quantitative rating is developed. This evaluation is supported by a verbal description of the characteristics of the organization’s product development approach as it evolves toward a world class approach to IPD. A worksheet for this evaluation process is shown below.


In addition to the performance rating against each best practice and for each higher level category, an overall performance rating is developed by again assigning a weighting factor to each category based on their importance given the nature of the business and the product. This performance rating, when compared to that of other companies, gives an indication of the urgency of improving the development process.

Gap analysis is then employed to focus attention on the improvement opportunities that will yield the highest payoff. The categories with high weighting factors and relatively low performance ratings yield the largest gaps between what is important to the organization and what it does well. these are the areas that require the highest priority in improving the development process and will likely have the largest payoff. On the other hand, categories with low importance ratings and relatively high performance ratings indicate low priority areas not deserving as much attention. This analysis becomes the basis for identifying implementation actions and priorities. An example of this performance summary and gap analysis is shown below.

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Quality function deployment (QFD) matrices can be used to translate these high priority improvement categories into specific actions, priorities, and implementation prerequisites to take with respect to strategy, organization, process, methods, and technology. and establishing implementation priorities. Given the many elements of IPD, the role of executive management in defining a vision and establishing implementation priorities is crucial.

Once priorities are established, a project plan needs to be developed for implementing IPD concepts, effectively introducing supporting tools and techniques, and improving the development processes. A cadre to perform and support implementation activities is required. As a first step, a critical mass of personnel within the organization needs to develop an understanding of the concepts of IPD. These people can then refine the implementation plan, perform various implementation activities, be involved in defining the desired way to develop new products based on IPD approaches, and assist in communicating the desired approach to the rest of the organization.

It is recommended that the implementation plan begin with the low cost activities that yield high payoffs. These include forming product development teams, providing training in IPD and Team Building, and utilizing the quality function deployment (QFD) methodology as the basis for product development. As these steps begin to generate savings, the organization can move on to other IPD elements and self-fund the initiative.

There are two types of implementation planning that must be addressed. The first one that has been described is the implementation plan for the enterprise activities. It covers all the activities to create the IPD environment for a particular development project – the activities that cannot cost effectively be done by an individual development project.

The second plan, the project deployment plan, the IPD actions that will be taken to support an individual product development project. This plan would be developed with the participation of the member of management responsible for the development effort, e.g., engineering manager, program manager, product line manager, etc. This plan would address the team structure required to support the project, a staffing plan supporting early involvement, the training requirements, facilities and collocation implications, the technical resources required (workstations, software, etc.), the use of techniques such as quality function deployment, supplier/subcontractor involvement, the development methodology, establishment of project policies and strategies, etc. The breakdown of the enterprise and project actions to be covered these plans is shown below.



Unlike implementing a system or procedure, IPD practices more broadly address behavior and how people work together as well as systems and business practices. Changing this behavior requires a significant amount of communication, training and reinforcement. People will not change unless this is a great enough force pressing for the change to overcome momentum of countering forces to maintain the status quo. The need for this change and the reinforcement to make this change must be regularly communicated to the people in the organization.

Publishing a statement of intent is one of the first communication steps. This should be followed by verbal statements in various employee meetings and forums. Training key personnel is certainly another step in the communication process. And publishing articles in a company newspaper or periodical is another. A IPD communications team can be established to identify various communications channels and see that the message of IPD is publicized on a regular basis.

Another various useful communications tool is the development of a IPD handbook. The purpose of the handbook is to described how product development will be done in your company applying IPD practices. The handbook is a good balance between training and general information about IPD and a defined business process that is normally documented in policies and procedures. It should be an informative, user-friendly method to describe the elements of IPD and how product development will be done within your organization using these IPD elements. The IPD handbook should represent a streamlined and improved business process or product development.

The preparation of this handbook provides the opportunity to make many of the decisions on how product development will change with IPD and re-define the product development business process (“to-be” environment). The handbook represents the method to document and communicate these changes to the personnel within a company. As such, it augments a training program in IPD.

The IPD handbook should address the various dimensions of IPD: organization and teams, the business process of product development, techniques and methodologies, product development strategy, technical tools, and systems architecture. The handbook should be very readable and incorporate graphics to help communicate concepts and the inter-relationships involved with IPD.

IPD may require a significant investment in education and training. This begins with executive management level so that they understand the concepts of IPD, the relationship of product development to the business strategy, and their role in implementing IPD. Middle management and key personnel need to understand enough about IPD concepts so that they can effectively plan and guide the implementation of these concepts.

Product development team members need to not only understand the concepts of IPD (knowledge), but develop the skills to cause a behavioral change. These include the “hard” skills in the various tools and techniques of IPD (design for manufacturability, design for test, quality function deployment, design of experiments, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, top-down design, CAE/CAD, etc.) as well as the “soft” skills (team building, leadership, effective meetings, effective communication, etc.).

Product development team members also need to have enough of an understanding of the product technology and design concepts so that they can effectively participate on a product development team. And finally, product development team members should develop an understanding of each functional discipline that is involved on the team, what its development role and objectives are, and any design constraints or requirements (e.g., maintainability guidelines, design for test standards, process capabilities and constraints, etc.). This understanding will lead to a broader enterprise perspective and facilitate consensus decision-making. A diagram of these IPD training elements is shown in below.



A company’s product development process evolves over a number of years. Their process may not be the most effective approach, but it is a response to past decisions related to organization structure, roles and responsibilities, the business environment, and control and coordination requirements. Staffing levels have also evolved based on decisions related to roles and responsibilities, perceived contributions, and political clout within the organization. As an organization begins to fundamentally change its development approach through the application of integrated product development concepts, the business process must be changed to reflect this new approach. As part of the implementation, the company must specifically address the business process of product development in order to achieve the full potential of IPD. A variety of issues need to be addressed.

Resource Planning

The timely development of a new product requires that all required personnel resources to support the development effort are available when needed. To coordinate this, an organization needs to start with a realistic development plan which includes a time-phased schedule of manpower requirements (by discipline and position) for the project. Since projects can be affected over time by unanticipated issues and tasks that take longer than planned, this resource plan needs to be maintained on a regular basis. The resource plan is the basis for obtaining personnel commitments to support the product development effort and extending or changing personnel commitments. It is a basis, along with other departmental requirements, to plan overall manpower requirements.

With a product development team’s need for resources from different departments, it is likely that resources from one or more departments will be constrained and unable to respond to the project’s requirements in a timely way. While resource planning should provide some higher level visibility to take action to alleviate significant resource constraints (bottlenecks), it is difficult for an organization to always balance its resource requirements with its available personnel in the short term.

The approach to addressing this issue will vary depending upon the organization’s objectives. If the objective is time-to-market, this would imply that development activities are a high priority and that the organization must maintain a sufficient level of resources to support requirements, even though the resources may not be highly utilized at all times. The benefits of time-to-market in this case can outweigh the cost impact of having a higher level of development resources. If the organization’s objectives are to develop a low cost product (where the per unit development cost is a relatively large portion of product cost) or to develop a product within a tight development budget, this would imply that development resources be staffed at a minimum level to insure high utilization and little downtime, even if it delays performing a development activity.

Other actions to alleviate resource constraints are to maximize the flexibility of development personnel so that they can perform tasks that are not normally their responsibility. As people become broader generalists through exposure to other disciplines on teams, through training, and through team member collaboration and support of each other, this balancing of work loads will occur naturally. Create a “can-do” environment where people understand the importance of stepping in to perform tasks normally outside their responsibility. Allow engineers and designers to operate equipment in a lab rather than having to wait for a lab technician who is backlogged with work. Provide flexible, easy-to-use design and analytic tools (e.g., FEA) that do not require a specialist to operate. Emphasize training and personnel development to create a broadly skilled workforce.

Reengineering and Improving the Development Process

Integrated product development practices create many opportunities to reengineer and improve the development process and reduce cycle time. These opportunities can be identified through reacting to perceived problems; brainstorming improvement opportunities; benchmarking; and documenting, analyzing, and redesigning the current product development process.

The first step is to understand the current product development process. If there is not a consistent and complete understanding of the current development process, a group should be formed to document this process (“as-is”). While flowcharting techniques have been used for this purpose, a structured methodology such as IDEF can deal with both physical and logical flows of information, paper and materials as well as temporal relationships. Another recommended step is benchmarking to gain a broader perspective of what other companies are doing in the area of product development and the strengths and weaknesses of your organization relative to these best practices.

Once company personnel have an understanding of their own product development process and the possibilities for improvements through benchmarking, they can then begin to re-define the company’s product development process. One approach consists of logical analysis of the “as-is” product development process to identify opportunities for improvement. Another approach is to brainstorm and identify improvements that can be made using a forum of knowledgeable personnel. Both approaches can be used in combination. When recommendations for improvements are developed, they would be presented to the appropriate level of management to be acted upon. Using a work-out approach, management must then take one of three actions: accept the recommendation, reject it with a reason provided, or ask for further information.

Specific improvement opportunities to look for when improving the development process include the following.

  • Streamline the review and approval process by providing clear, up-front direction to the product development team including specifications, cost targets, budgets, schedules and development strategy. This will enable them to make decisions on a proper basis. Push down decision-making to the lowest competent level, i.e., the personnel assigned to a product development team. This will provide for balanced, cross-functional decisions. It avoids delays caused by elevating a decision to a higher level and prevents having a decision made with a less complete understanding of all facts known to the product development team. Since competent, knowledgeable personnel on a product development team are basing design approaches on all of the requirements and constraints considering the product life cycle, many of the previously needed reviews may no longer be necessary. Therefore, streamline the review and approval process by requiring only a minimum number of reviews and approvals at critical points and by requiring a short review and approval cycle.
  • Look for occurrences of tasks that have to be repeated or require multiple iterations. This can indicate that a task may not have been done right the first time because of a lack of information or an oversight. Question what could be done to correct this situation and reduce the number of iterations. Streamline or eliminate complex and unnecessary paperwork, particularly as an organization moves toward paperless approaches and integrated systems. Look for redundant tasks performed in multiple departments or by multiple people. This indicates a lack of communication and coordination or a lack of an integrated system. Redundant data entry and processing should be eliminated as an organization moves towards integrated systems.
  • Identify activities that take a long time and question how this time might be reduced by starting earlier, performing portions of the activity in parallel with other activities, eliminating bottlenecks or unnecessary activities, or better applying resources to the task. Look at opportunities to eliminate steps through earlier functional participation or exchange of information and at opportunities to re-sequence or re-organize activities. Evaluate opportunities to integrate systems or eliminate steps. The opportunities to streamline are significant as teams are collocated. Team members can work out issues on the spot with fewer complex procedures and without delays in communication and transmittal of documents.

Another aspect of defining the development process is to establish a formal product development methodology. This involves defining development phases, milestones and activities to be performed in a phase. This provides a time-oriented perspective of the development process.

This improved business process (“to-be”) must be documented and communicated. Again structured analysis techniques can be used or other methods used including documenting this desired process in the form of a IPD handbook. Once the product development process has been re-defined, then the organization structure, functions, roles, responsibilities, and reporting relationships can be re-assessed. A transition plan can be created identifying the actions required to achieve the “to-be” product development process and revised organization. Performance measures should be established to monitor the achievement of these improvements. These performance measures need to be based on team-oriented approaches and re-oriented objectives such as quality, time-to-market, etc. in order to truly influence behavior.


Integrated product development concepts are not new and revolutionary. Many of these practices have been used by organizations in the past. But as the size and complexity of companies increased, industry lost many of these practices. In the competitive world of the Nineties, companies must aggressively improve the way that they develop products. While the concepts of IPD are simple, the implementation of these practices and the process of changing a company’s culture is challenging. Success can be achieved with a well-planned and managed effort. Management must understand not only the concepts of IPD, but the process of managing change within the organization. The responsibility for making these major changes in culture, organization, business process and technology can not be delegated. Proactive management involvement, leadership, and attention to detail will pay off.

Unsuccessful or disappointing efforts to implement IPD can be traced to one or more of the following pitfalls:

  • Limited IPD perspective – management believes they have achieved it
  • Not a high priority; treated as a fad
  • Lack of understanding of how to manage change, involve employees, or change the culture
  • Teams formed, but no guidance given on roles, responsibilities, reporting relationships, etc.
  • No management leadership or follow-up – imperative lost
  • Lack of time or investment in training, process improvement, systems, or guidelines
  • No plan, accepted responsibilities, or coordination
  • Policies & reward systems not re-aligned to support IPD

The implementation effort should be planned and lead from the top down, but implemented from the bottom up to develop ownership. Employee involvement must be based on communicating the proper goals and providing necessary training in the concepts and skills. When executive management makes continuous improvement a high priority, initiatives such as integrated product development can be achieved.

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