In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the link between problem‐solving capabilities and product development performance. In this article, the authors apply a problem‐solving perspective to the management of product development and suggest how shifting the identification and solving of problems—a concept that they define as front‐loading—can reduce development time and cost and thus free up resources to be more innovative in the marketplace. The authors develop a framework of front‐loading problem‐solving and present related examples and case evidence from development practice. These examples include Boeing's and Chrysler's experience with the use of “digital mock‐ups” to identify interference problems that are very costly to solve if identified further downstream—sometimes as late as during or—after first full‐scale assembly. In the article, the authors propose that front‐loading can be achieved using a number of different approaches, two of which are discussed in detail: (1) project‐to‐project knowledge transfer—leverage previous projects by transferring problem and solution‐specific information to new projects; and (2) rapid problem‐solving—leverage advanced technologies and methods to increase the overall rate at which development problems are identified and solved. Methods for improving project‐to‐project knowledge transfer include the effective use of “postmortems,” which are records of post‐project learning and thus can be instrumental in carrying forward the knowledge from current and past projects. As the article suggests, rapid problem‐solving can be achieved by optimally combining new technologies (such as computer simulation) that allow for faster problem‐solving cycles with traditional technologies (such as late stage prototypes), which usually provide higher fidelity. A field study of front‐loading at Toyota Motor Corporation shows how a systematic effort to front‐load its development process has, in effect, shifted problem‐identification and problem‐solving to earlier stages of product development. They conclude the article with a discussion of other approaches to front‐load problem‐solving in product development and propose how a problem‐solving perspective can help managers to build capabilities for higher development performance.
The Journal of Product Innovation Management – Wiley
Published: Mar 1, 2000
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