Expert Manufacturing Advice tailored for step-by-step implementation in the workplace. Small Manufacturers, Machine Shops and CAD Engineers improve and thrive with our hands-on help. What the Best Performing Manufacturers Do - 4 Development Processes and Procedures, Working to a Plan, Managing Risks and Project Management Essential Product Development for Engineers
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Make sure your product development process is easy to follow. A simple diagram showing the overarching plan is a great way of communicating all the stages of the process at once. At the next level down, you may want to consider detailed procedures, written in a way that is easy to follow like flow diagrams for example. Make sure those who undertake the work have a central role in drafting and updating any documented processes. Individuals who use them frequently and have drawn them up are likely to stick to them.
Don’t write them in an exhaustive dry way; instead keep them sufficiently flexible so they can be applied to any product you develop. As a pilot or example, consider producing a simple version, illustrating a short process everybody is already familiar with, to demonstrate how the system works. Think about using colour, or even images. Again, make it work for your business.
Changing and updating procedures (derived from your process) needs to be relatively quick and painless. Somebody should be in charge of the process, responsible for version control, update, release and dissemination of new procedures (as well as the destruction of out of date versions).
Development Processes and Procedures
Managing Risks during Product Development
To increase the chances of success during product development, make sure you identify and manage the risks. A good place to start is with a risk register, sometimes called a risk log. Here, the biggest problems and risks are considered and ranked with the highest risk at the top. Next identify efforts to mitigate, control or eliminate each risk. Risks should be ‘owned’ by somebody. That is, a named individual should have the responsibility to drive the risk elimination or mitigation activities.
Nominate then record the owner’s initials against each risk on the register. Actions then follow for each one, to ensure the risks are actively managed. Issues are risks that are problematic now. They require attention quickly. Make sure all those involved in product development tasks have access to, and know the latest status of the risk register. Use it at review meetings and keep it updated.
Within Engineering Product Development, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a common tool for identifying and managing risks. Some clients mandate them and they are popular in the automotive and aerospace industries, among others. For small manufacturers, perhaps the most useful types of FMEAs exist for both design (DFMEA) and processes (PFMEA).
Development Processes and Procedures
Plans and Schedules during Product Development
Planning and project timing are central to successful product development. The stages of your product development process need to be set to a timed schedule or plan. This drives the completion of the tasks and creates a sense of urgency, pace and momentum. The cross-functional team should be involved in devising the plan to get everybody’s commitment. In addition senior management participation and direction is important to ensure the schedule fits with other business objectives and activities.
What is the overall driver for the project? Is it to meet a perceived gap in the market? Alternatively, is it a response to an opportunity, perhaps driven by technology or customer demand? Is the driver a trade exhibition at some point in the future, where you are aiming for a product launch? Or is it part of a rolling series of new product launches set over a period of time? Alternatively, is it to meet a need within the product range? Strategic planning of new products should be a Board level issue, considered months and sometimes years in advance.
Get a sense of the timing by breaking the overall plan down into the process stages, and then asking employees’ familiar with each stage to estimate how long is required. Draw on experience from past projects to help estimations. To keep lead-times low, challenge employees, asking why, and make them justify their time estimates. Above all, keep the plans realistic.
Understand the important stages which are vital for the plan to be successfully executed – the critical path. Resources and timing should be allocated accordingly. To assist this, identify and separate riskier research activities from more straightforward development projects which include proven technologies.
Can you run some activities simultaneously or at least with some overlap? Aim to identify opportunities for concurrent engineering in this way. Do this wherever possible to minimise the overall duration. Add some contingency into your planning to allow for unexpected delays or changes. Contingency may be added at each stage or as a period at the end.
Use the cross-functional team to allocate specific tasks from the development plan. Make people accountable by identifying who is personally responsible for either undertaking activities or ensuring they happen by delegation. This increases the likelihood of visible progress. Use project meetings to chase people, as well as allocate and follow up tasks. Ensure employees are accountable and clear about what is expected of them.
Communicate the plan to all concerned. Use the cross-functional team to disseminate tasks. The project plan should be visible (try mounting copies on the wall), within easy reach (maybe on a readily accessible IT network) and version controlled. Updates to plans should be completed quickly after project meetings, before being communicated to everybody who needs them. Destroy old versions and make it clear what the latest version is following meetings. Include sales, marketing and senior management in the loop, with progress against the plan, together with any updates. Do this as a matter of routine.
Once again, try and move the plan along at pace. Although a realistic proposal is important at the planning stage, it should be stretching, so employees have to work quickly to achieve it. This builds momentum, encourages urgency, as well as providing satisfaction as each stage is completed.
For some hands-on, practical project planning advice please see the Project Management section. The info here will refine your product development processes and procedures
Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) Worked Example
Design Failure Mode Effects Analysis (DFMEA) Explained
Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (PFMEA) Explained
Back to Product Development Essentials
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