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Project Management and Product Development Book Reviews

World-Class New Product Development: Benchmarking Best Practices of Agile Manufacturers

by Dan Dimancescu and Kemp Dwenger. New York: Amacom, 1996. 239 + xvi pages. $29.95.

This book covers leading-edge management practices in new product development. The authors draw from their experience working with many companies around the world that are leaders in product and process innovation. Although many familiar themes appear, such as development teams and voice of the customer, Dimancescu and Dwenger also introduce many tools likely to be new to the reader.

Their primary audience is managers who develop new products. The book concentrates on industrial products and consumer durables, mostly from higher tech and large companies. It applies to both hardware and software development, and much of it also is useful for service development. Many of the topics are advanced: the reader will find new tools and concepts in this book, but these may require further work to validate and apply.

Dimancescu and Dwenger bring to this volume rich experience that serves them well. Both have spent considerable time in Japan over several years observing innovation leaders there. They have similar but less extensive experience in Europe. In addition, they founded and are now leading the International Association for Product Development (IAPD), a private subscription group. Thus, this book is not based on primary research, and no research findings are provided. It is instead a collection of techniques the authors have discovered in their visits or encountered in IAPD meetings.

In Chapter 1, the authors start with a list of the predominant problems in developing new products:

  1. Customer needs not well defined or understood
  2. Errors found too late
  3. Management by interference
  4. Too many projects
  5. Burnout
  6. Poor communication

They highlight poor definition of customer needs as the most pervasive problem. Although Dimancescu and Dwenger support this point adequately-and much other current research also supports it-they provide a poor example to illustrate their point. The example involves a sound system developed for a personal computer, which followed stated customer desires closely by providing a pure sound, but the sound was so pure that it blurred the screen (p. 9). To this reviewer, this is an illustration of poor technical execution, not of poor customer need definition. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case of a poorly chosen example that weakens the point being made.

Chapters 5-13 are the core and most valuable part of the book. Each covers a group of tools that addresses the common problems listed above. On page 60 is a matrix that connects the problems listed above with the chapters that provide solutions. For example, Chapter 5, entitled “Strategic Process Teaming,” covers development teams as a solution. Here the authors describe a three-tier team structure, citing examples such as Boeing, Chrysler, Ford, and Digital. The emphasis is clearly on large companies and large projects, so the techniques suggested will need adjustment for more modestly sized situations to retain an agile team environment.

Chapter 6 describes four-fields mapping, a tool that Dimancescu has brought from Japan. Basically, a four-fields map is a process map [1] with its horizontal and vertical axes interchanged and some additional useful information added in the margins. Such maps allow describing a development process on a single sheet in an easily grasped form.

The authors describe various approaches toward metrics in Chapter 7. A method they call half-life performance gaps is particularly intriguing. Much like manufacturing learning curve theory, the half-life method provides a trajectory that performance should follow to yield a 50% reduction in the gap over a certain predictable period, thus giving management a definite, achievable path toward improvement. Unfortunately, the authors do not describe how one predicts the period in a given situation, which is the key to making the technique useful. The reader is left with a reference to an unpublished manuscript on order fulfillment processes. This is an example of what I referred to earlier as a leading-edge tool that will need more work to be useful to product developers.

Chapter 8 covers development reviews; here the authors note a current trend toward using reviews to learn about not only the project but also the development process itself [2]. “Every review became an introspective session into why things were happening the way they were and not just whether the design met the requirement” (p. 107).

Product definition is the focus in Chapter 9, where the authors cite a study showing that 66% of development project failures stem from a weak understanding of user needs. The key solution is to get all members of the development team into direct contact with a small, select group of customers. As one team learned, “Stubborn as we were, our attitude began to change through the interviewing process. We heard comments on issues we’d never addressed before, and we learned that some of our assumptions had been faulty. If we hadn’t heard it with our own ears, we never would have believed some of what we learned” (p. 130). Dimancescu and Dwenger offer a healthy perspective on quality function deployment (QFD): “QFD is not to be judged as a tool but as a communication process for development team members” (p. 126).

This reviewer found fewer useful tools from Chapter 10 on, but there are a couple of gems in the appendices. Appendix D provides two case studies illustrating how a company can work more effectively with its suppliers.

Because the payoff from anything in the book requires an organization to actually change the way it does business, the sobering reminder provided on the last page of the book should not be missed. Dwenger describes an NEC-GTE joint venture that attained breakthrough operational improvements, “but the learning opportunity was lost on other GTE-Sylvania manufacturing locations, which saw the accomplishment as a threat rather than as an opportunity, and patterns of behavior failed to change.”

This book suffers from two flaws throughout: the copy editing is poor and many references cited are inaccessible. For example, IAPD presentations are often referenced, but these are available only to IAPD member companies.

Preston G. Smith
New Product Dynamics

References

1. Rummler, Geary A. and Brache, Alan P. Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

2. Smith, Preston G. Your product development process demands ongoing improvement. Research-Technology Management 39(2):37-44 (March-April 1996).

(Reviewed in the Journal of Product Innovation Management, November 1996, pp. 567-568.)

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(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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