Slow Down! Full-Speed Product Development Can Lead to Deadly Results

July 10, 2015
Why a disciplined product-development process beats a full-steam ahead approach.

Not a day goes by without news of product quality problems, which sometimes, unfortunately, include fatal consequences.

The current airbag problem affecting car manufacturer and owners, Airbus’ latest plane crash, and many other less visible incidents make me ask the question: Are we driving product development too fast in a fog, during that time when we simply don't know enough or to save costs?

I know companies whose owners or CEOs do not pay much attention to product quality issues during product development and early-stage manufacturing. One owner I advised refused to calibrate test and production equipment.

The result? You guessed it. Their customer, a company that operates worldwide, experienced severe quality problems. Fortunately, safety was not compromised. But not surprisingly, the reputation of my client took a hard hit.

It is not uncommon that hard-driving executives ask employees to forgo that one last test run, to skip or delay the calibration of measuring instruments, to spend less time analyzing test results. Time is money, whether saved before launch or earned with an early launch.

Yet, engineering and product development practices, honed over decades, yield solid processes that ensure a high quality final product.

Indeed, when conducted properly, the disciplined product-development process itself will reveal huge amounts of critical data and clear information that can be used to increase product quality or yield further savings.

Over time, manufacturers have come to understand that product development requires that engineering and manufacturing tests must be well integrated at the earliest stages of and throughout the product development processes.

Quality is not the quality manual sitting on the desk or the ISO certification framed on the wall. Quality begins at the top...

Despite these well-known, time-tested and proven processes, I think management remains too aloof from the daily challenges faced by the product development team.

Quality is not the quality manual sitting on the desk or the ISO certification framed on the wall. Quality begins at the top, with executives and managers acknowledging that understanding and learning takes time. If this is not fully acknowledged by the company leadership, product is prone to quality problems.

Sailors know the answer: Reduce speed in fog!

How much should the speed be reduced? The basic rule is, reduce product development speed to the point where you have a sufficient amount of statistically relevant data and other information that concurs with the original plans, designs, simulations or experience. Management should prudently analyze the data and feel confident about the product development maturity status. In fog, knowing where you are and what is coming ahead is critical for a safe ride. The same goes for companies producing new products.

Fortunately, there are many ways to expedite the learning process. However, in my experience, nothing beats a good test at various phases of product development and manufacturing.

Well-planned tests that minimally increases product cost can dramatically reduce the risk of a product recall.

About the Author

R. Paul Vuolle | CEO

R. Paul Vuolle, CEO of Bellevue SME Advisors GmbH in Switzerland and Germany, works actively with small and medium (SME) size manufacturing companies in Europe in SCM/Outsourcing, logistics, turnaround and restructuring, market expansion, as well as succession planning and financing. He also frequently supports technology start- ups in building up their business. He is the author of Lead Now, Manage Later: The Straight Shooter's Guide to Business Success.

Paul has over 20 years operational industry experience in engineering, electronics, industrial automation, building automation, investment goods like electrical drives, automatic test & measurement systems, HV Transformer production systems. During his career he has worked in manufacturing industries in supply chain management, outsourcing, logistics, production, R&D and successfully selling to international large key accounts. Paul has also run a sizeable amount of M&A transactions in numerous countries around the world.

He has built up his experience working in various leadership positions and functions in large corporations, such as ABB, and having executive positions in medium-size family companies and as a technology entrepreneur.

Paul is MSc. E.E. from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich as well as BSc.E.E. from Helsinki Institute of Technology.

Paul is a long time member of IEEE and of its Industrial Applications Society.

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