from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 6
From Chaos in Product Development
Rubinstein is professor of engineering and applied science at the
University of California, Los Angeles; he directs seminars for
executives and managers of many organizations.
He has written several books including Concepts
in Problem Solving and Tools
for Thinking and Problem Solving (Prentice Hall, Englewood
Cliffs, NJ, 1980 and 1986).
and development usually require the collaboration of several
fields of endeavor. Traditionally,
experts from each field enter the process in sequence, make their
contribution and pass their findings to experts from other fields.
This process can lead to conflicts when the downstream
experts decide that work must be redone. It's a pattern that can gobble up vast amounts of time.
an example, let's look at the typical development sequence of a
new automobile. Initially,
preliminary conceptual designs are explored.
When the engineers get involved, they may notice factors
like aerodynamics or safety that dictate changes in the overall
design. Later, when
it turns out that the aerodynamic design could not be manufactured
economically, engineering and design may have to be repeated.
The assembly of the prototype may uncover new problems,
leading to further changes in manufacturing, supplied parts,
engineering, and possibly even the original design.
Finally when the car is marketed, maintenance and repair
personnel may unravel yet further problems.
these repetitions are costly, in terms of time, money, and
customer satisfaction. They
sap vitality and impede the process of research and development.
Is there a better way?
Model of Concurrent Perception
inherent difficulties in the process of sequential design and
perceptions can be mitigated by adopting the model of concurrent
this approach, we share perceptions and ideas at the outset,
before decisions are made. As a result, the process moves us from questions to answers,
from divergent perception to convergent perception, from
individual creativity to team implementation, from abstract
thinking and quick experimentation to concrete action with quality
results, from deliberate chaos at the beginning to emergent order
at the end.
would we apply this model to the development of a car?
We'd start by forming a group with representatives from
each specialty needed in the cycle of research, development and
engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, finance, marketing,
repair, and so on.
the leader would articulate the vision for the product—perhaps a
new sports car to compete with the X Corporation's hot-selling
Bandit. The design
conceive several preliminary design configurations for the car,
but before it made a final choice, while the designers were still
receptive to changes, we'd call a meeting and have the
specialists, representing the diversity of interests in the final
product, discuss the preliminary design.
early involvement would allow specialists who traditionally enter
the R&D process near the end to voice concerns and spot
problems that would typically emerge later on.
For example, engineering may identify a difficulty with the
aerodynamic design, and suggest a remedy, but if manufacturing
considered it too difficult to build economically, alternate
designs could be suggested. The
more issues that are raised at this early phase, the more
perceptions of potential future problems would shared up front .
group members look for ideas and possibilities, spot problems
before they emerge, and explore ideas within their expertise.
Creativity and innovation, the driving forces of
productivity, remain foremost in the minds of those closest to the
work. When revised
designs are presented to the group in subsequent conversations,
they will once again consider issues in engineering,
manufacturing, assembly, maintenance, repair, safety, customer
perception, safety, and comfort.
conversations focus on sharing perceptions, and the word
"NO" isn’t heard.
Everything is open and in flux.
If a group member thinks of something outside a meeting, he
or she brings it to the group's attention.
As time passes, the group becomes team-bound by the common
goal and, most important, each member has a heightened perception
of his or her place in the entire process.
arenas for forming concurrent perception are the early and ongoing
conversation meetings. What
do we mean by conversation? The
word contains the Latin root of the word for opposite (converse). In a
conversation, opposing views are articulated and in the process
new shared insights are gained.
We must enter a conversation with a flexible, open mind,
prepared to convert others to our view and willing at the same
time to accept the views of others when appropriate.
An effective conversation is an art, a manifestation of
maturity. It requires
unprejudiced objectivity. We
must enter a conversation ready to listen and comprehend the
perceptions of others, regardless of how remote these are from our
a conversation a specialist can learn of the road maps that guide
the thinking and actions of other specialties in the R&D
conversations, tact is as important as substance and content.
We must refrain from judging or criticizing others or even
from off-handedly agreeing with them.
We must stay away from attitudes of superiority or
need for early and ongoing conversations across the spectrum of
R&D experts is rooted in the fact that experts filter
taken in their entirety, many R&D projects are too complex for
a single human mind to comprehend, so we filter out much of the
information and focus on a part we can see clearly.
While filtering achieves clarity, it comes at the price of
ignoring that which was filtered out.
For example, when we hear two conversations, one in a
language we know and one in a language we don't, we tune in to the
language we know and ignore the other.
The known language is a filter, just as is our particular
a design proposal is presented, manufacturing may see features
that will make it easy to assemble, while maintenance may see that
the same features make it difficult to take apart for maintenance.
Manufacturing, maintenance and every other specialty act as
our perceptions with those of others involved in the R&D cycle
is essential to learning. We
must balance the stability
of our knowledge with flexibility
to modify it, refine it, and even replace it.
Also, it’s important not to completely rely on an
expert's opinion; we must always be open to the ideas of outsiders
and development are constantly under pressures of time and
opportunities continually arise to improve efficiency and
effectiveness. The advantage of the concurrent perception model is
that problems are addressed more quickly than in the usual linear
process of development. In
the early stages of the concurrent perception model, there is more
chaos, more experimentation and change, but almost paradoxically
this reduces the need to undo and redo the product later on.
other words, concurrent perception feeds vitality, while
sequential perception saps it.
The model of concurrent perception provides a process for
balancing stability and flexibility.
It establishes a learning environment that transcends the
traditional boundaries between specialties that must collaborate
in research and development.