Increasing complexity of socio-technical systems makes cross-system product development in companies difficult. To master this complexity, company-related focal points are becoming increasingly important. The aim of the joint project AMeLie is to make the product development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more efficient. This is done through a structured approach, which increases efficiency and thus competitiveness. For this purpose, conventional systems engineering (SE) approaches from theory are transferred into manageable methods. These methods can be individually combined for solutions. In this way, development processes will be shortened in the long term and SE becomes applicable for SMEs. This Blogpost aims to provide an insight of the capability pillar “Process Efficiency”. It will cover the four capabilities defining an efficient process landscape, what they consist of and what you need to mind mastering all of them. Further, it will show the importance of efficient processes in the context of SMEs.

Four pillars form the foundation of Advanced Systems Engineering and provide the framework for successful product development

In our first blog post, we already provided an overview of the AMeLie context. In addition to an explanation of the terms, we also described the four key pillars of Advanced Systems Engineering.

  • Skill Management
  • Context & Customer Understanding
  • System Mastery
  • Process Efficiency
Img.1: System Engineering Capabilites to enable SMEs to develop greater products

The first pillar of “Context & Customer Understanding” has already been illuminated in a previous blog-post and the contained capabilities considered in detail. The importance of user-centred product development was explained and how corresponding methods can be integrated into the product development process.

At the table with AMeLie

We will now turn our attention to the second pillar. This has the extremely generic name “Process Efficiency”. Processes form the basis of every company. This applies both to product development and to supporting processes such as logistics, purchasing or marketing. To develop a successful product and ultimately bring it to the customer, all parts of a company must interact like a set of gears. This requires defined processes within the company that are, at best, as uncomplicated as possible. Sounds complex? It is. But if you slice this huge “process elephant” into slices, the complexity becomes much easier to digest.

To illustrate this, we would like to invite you to our Process Dinner. Our menu consists of the four courses “Taylor your Process”, “Document continuously”, “Plan and Execute” and “Utilize Technology”. The aim is to whet your appetite to take a closer look at the process landscape in your company. However, we would also like to provide you with a recipe so that you can prepare these dishes yourself.

#1 Let´s start with an appetizer – Taylor your Process

Since the guest appreciates variety and does not always want to eat the same thing, it is important to constantly adapt the selection and keep it variable. Variable dishes naturally require flexibility in the preparation of the food – different methods, utensils or preparation methods are needed.

The same applies to processes in a company. Increasing complexity of products, shortened life cycles and changing customer needs force enterprises to constantly adapt their processes to new circumstances. To do this, processes must offer room for adaptation without having to reinvent procedures every time. It is to establish an efficient yet comprehensive product development process, tailored to your specific product that allows adaptability to change and unforeseen circumstances.

The aim is to build a fixed process framework as a foundation, which can then be extended by suitable process steps as required. Ask yourself the question: Do we regularly assess the maturity of our processes and adapt them to environmental and product-specific conditions?

Methodologies that offer this flexibility are agile development methods such as SCRUM or the Spotify Framework. These frameworks can help you to react quickly and easily to new situations.

#2 Settle in with a starter – Document continuously

Great chefs are known for their creativity. Nevertheless, they draw on their wealth of experience and are inspired by previous dishes and the influences of other chick chefs. They write cookbooks in which they record their experiences. When creating new recipes, they make use of the basics, some of which have been around for a century or more and give them their own touch. Even a top chef doesn’t reinvent himself every time, due to the lack of time and the efficiency that is required in renowned restaurants.

This clearly shows how crucial it is to provide a sufficient, continuous, and up to date documentation of product specification and development. This applies especially in an environment with strict certification guidelines. A well-working documentation system has several advantages. On the one hand, process documentation helps to quickly integrate new employees into the work environment and enables a steep learning and efficiency curve. Furthermore, it ensures traceability. Where are we currently in the product development process? Who is currently working on what? Which tests do I have to perform in which case for quality assurance? These questions can be easily answered with a documentation system. Document versioning also belongs in this field, because working with old versions costs time, resources and therefore money. On the other hand, it serves the transfer of knowledge in companies. Who does not know this situation: A long-time and excellently trained employee leaves your company. The outflow of knowledge is enormous and can hardly be compensated.

A PLM system can provide a remedy. It is a concept for the seamless integration of all information that accumulates during the life cycle of a product.

#3 A great process main course – Plan and Execute

What makes the difference between a chef and a cook? Sure, both can prepare great dishes. But the chef is much more. He knows every detail in his kitchen. He has precise ideas about what potential is in the ingredients and what it takes to prepare them. But he also knows his staff, in the kitchen as well as in the service area, he knows how many guests to expect on which days and which dishes are currently in demand and popular. He knows his environment and uses his resources successfully.

Managing a company, you need to know your product and process well to be able to correctly estimate required efforts and resources and manage them accordingly. This requires a systematic approach for effort estimation, from which work packages can be derived. Being aware of all efforts enables you to allocate your recourses in the perfect way. It´s about putting the right people in the right place and equip them with the right tools and frameworks. Efficient processes depend on acknowledging efforts and acting accordingly. Methods like milestone planning, a synchronization plan and project-based resource allocation can be used to plan your processes and projects and execute them successfully. Remember to derive risks of your processes to be armed for any occurring eventualities.

#4 There is always room for desert – Utilize technology

Modern kitchens work with modern kitchen appliances. Of course, the classics such as knives, ovens, pots and pans belong in every star kitchen still. But in many restaurants, modern kitchen utensils like KitchenAid or Thermomix are indispensable. They help to complete tedious and time-consuming tasks quickly and easily. They combine several steps in one and help to increase efficiency.

As the chefs keep up to date, you should keep up with technology and start to utilize it. It will save you time and cost.

Administrative tasks should be automated to make business processes more efficient. IT applications, for example by Microsoft, often offer potential for simplifying project management and increasing speed. But also in the area of product development, processes can be improved by using modern technologies. Hardly any product development can do without CAD applications. It is important to stay up-to-date in order to generate added value. Especially since license fees are already paid for the programs. Why not get the maximum out of them? Furthermore, testing should be kept technologically up to date. Rapid prototyping or 3D printers offer a great opportunity to build complex, undercut prototypes without having to have expensive tools made.

Process efficiency – the Michelin guide to master complexity

Processes are more than just fixed flowcharts that hang on the wall of every office but are never looked at. If they are lived and constantly adapted and improved, they form the basis for successful product development. They give support and confidence in the company together without forcing it into a corset. They help to go with the time and distribute knowledge. And in the end, properly processed, they are also very digestible.

Bon Appétit!