A Strategic Approach to Product and Process Development


In our globally-linked economy, product development capabilities are the basis for successful competition. Successful product development requires fundamentally improved approaches to organizing the development process, reducing waste, and providing products to meet customer needs in order to respond to global competition in our own markets as well as compete effectively on a global basis. Lean product development practices (LPD) and time-to-market are key elements in competitive success. LPD orients product design to customer needs and the company’s production capabilities. More broadly, it enhances integration of product and process design with strategic objectives, improves organizational effectiveness, and provides a framework for effectively implementing design technology.

The traditional approach to improvement in U.S. manufacturing has been to break down the enterprise into more understandable functional units and work centers, study each one individually, and then optimize the operations of each unit. The optimization of individual units has been at the expense of suboptimization of the whole enterprise. This functionally-oriented thinking has resulted in barriers between departments. This is exemplified by the “wall” between Engineering and Manufacturing with designs being “thrown over the wall” to Manufacturing without adequate regard to producibility. LPD requires that the enterprise be viewed in a more integrated manner. This integration considers three dimensions:

  • Strategic integration to tie decision-making and the pattern of enterprise activities to a focused direction that allows an organization to distinguish itself in the marketplace.
  • Functional integration which organizes and links the various functional areas of an enterprise to work together more effectively and optimize the whole.
  • Logistic or supply chain integration which extends integration concepts beyond the manufacturer’s four walls to its customers and its suppliers.

Since product and process design have such a major influence on the competitiveness of the enterprise, it is especially critical that the design function be better integrated with the other functions of the enterprise. This means integration within the engineering function (e.g., integration of both product design with process design and integration of electrical, mechanical and software design), integration of the design and engineering function with the rest of the enterprise, and integration of the engineering function with external organizations (customers and suppliers).

This integration will result in the release of more mature product designs which can be more effectively produced within a company’s existing or planned production system and more effectively supported. New product design and introduction leadtime or time-to-market will be reduced to meet rapidly changing technology and customer demands and increase enterprise flexibility. More specifically, the objectives of Integrated Product Development are:

  • The design of products to better meet customer needs and quality expectations
  • The design of processes or the consideration of process capabilities in designing products in order to produce products at a more competitive price
  • Reduction of product and process design cycle time or time-to-market to bring products to market earlier
  • High productivity through release of producible designs and minimization of disruptive design changes

The accomplishment of these objectives requires an integrated approach to product and process design which considers the company’s business strategy. This integrated approach to product and process design rests on:

  • Alignment of product development with business strategy;
  • Organizational integration using product development teams or integrated product teams as a way to organize development activities;
  • A well defined and optimized development process;
  • Integrated design automation tools oriented toward creating, analyzing and using digital product data to move a product into production;
  • Optimization of the product and process design to enhance manufacturability, testability, affordability, reliability, maintainability, etc.

In applying these tools and concepts, the organization must be re-structured, cultural issues considered, and communication among different functional units improved.


The enterprise’s product and process design approach must be linked to the business strategy. Hayes and Wheelwright define five dimensions to competition: cost, quality/performance, flexibility, dependability and innovativeness. A world class manufacturer must be effective in all five dimensions, but can only excel in one or two dimensions. An enterprise’s strategy must be considered in the approach to product and process design. For example, the low cost producer must optimize the product design to the company’s production system and consider high volume, highly automated production processes. The flexible producer with lower production volume would develop flexible production processes and a design engineering function with greater degrees of design freedom and flexible, automated product and process design capabilities.

In any case, a general strategy for manufacturers is to move toward focused factories which concentrate on doing a few things well. This implies focused product and process design which further implies standardization and simplification of products and parts within each focused facility. (If the product has been designed intelligently, it will be possible to provide a great deal of product variety through combining assembly modules and adding product options late in the manufacturing process.) Through standardization and simplification, a company will be able to focus its attention on the producibility of its preferred parts and products. These standardized families of parts and products will require a more limited set of manufacturing processes. A company can then focus on developing theseproducts and processes considering its selected dimensions of competition such as follows:

Basis of Competition and Product and Process Development Implications

Cost A strong emphasis on target costing, design-to-cost, value engineering, and design for manufacturability. Minimum product variety. Significant manufacturing and accounting involvement in development. Suppliers are well-integrated into the development process. Factory uses high volume equipment specifically oriented to the product; automated material handling.
Quality / Reliability / Dependability A disciplined and rigorous product development process. Strong focus on understanding customer needs and providing products that meet those needs. Use of techniques like FMEA, FTA, FRACAS, DOE, Taguchi Methods, poke-yoke, and reliability prediction. Heavy emphasis on testing and qualification. Processes are oriented to self-checking and adjustment and use of computer- aided inspection and test equipment.
Time-to-Market Use of modular design approaches. Sufficient resources to undertake development processes underway. Continuous surveillance of the marketplace and understanding of customer needs. Well-defined development processes based on tightly integrated design automation tools. Well-planned and managed programs with clear definition and acceptance of responsibilities. Process equipment to handle a wide range of work envelopes; FMS; quick set-up and changeover.
Innovativeness / Technology A technology plan and roadmap based on the business and product strategy and plan. Effective technology management. Process to review new technologies developed outside for applicability internally. Effective process to deploy n ew technology to development programs. State-of-the-art design and analysis tools to support requirements of new technology. Policies to invest in training and development of personnel to master new technology. Culture open to new ideas and taking risks. Investment in new process technology.

A starting point is to define and understand the company’s marketplace, customer needs and competition. Based on this assessment, the company’s primary competitive dimensions can be selected and a strategy defined to develop and enhance these competitive dimensions. Once this is done, product and process design based on IPD can be oriented to implement this strategy.

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