If you're not under pressure to design products fast, raise your hand. Though I can't see you on the monitor of my PC, I'm betting there aren't many hands in the air. Maybe none. Good. This editorial is for you.
More accurately, the book this editorial is about is for you. Just released by publisher Van Nostrand Reinhold is an updated edition of Developing products in half the time, by Preston G. Smith and Donald G. Reinertsen. The original book was published in 1991. This edition includes the subtitle "New rules, new tools." The emphasis is more on the rules, and they are good ones:
- You can't develop every product fast--and probably shouldn't.
- Shorten design cycles only when you can make money at it.
- The least expensive opportunity to save time is in the "fuzzy front end"--that time between when you learn about the opportunity for a product and when you mount a serious effort to develop it. Don't drag your feet in a convoluted decision-making process.
- Incremental innovation--rather than megaprojects--are fine, though they can have drawbacks. They reuse existing technology. They're less complex, they include fewer requirements, and they keep young engineers motivated because they see results sooner. But, don't let the increments be so small and insignificant they are boring. Follow the example of Keithley Instruments, which developed its 2400 in 12 months. Two other incrementally better products followed.
- Design engineers should have contact with customers. It helps them get the product right the first time.
- Involve suppliers and customers early.
- Remember, it's not just one thing that cuts design time. It's many things. You have to integrate CAD, teams, and project management, among other resources.
This list just brushes the surface. The book goes into great deal on these and other topics, and it's well worth reading.
How do you shorten your design time?