Preston Smith's Corner

How can I develop products more flexibly by exploiting experimentation?

June 2006 Quick Tip

Experimentation includes not only experiments but prototypes, simulations, analyses, and any other process that involves trying an idea out to learn more about it. It can be done in many media: plastics, metal, circuit boards, silicon chips, molecules, and software.

Experimentation is a powerful tool to gain flexibility because it improves your anticipation and foresight. You can explore an area of the design to learn more about it — how it behaves, where its limits are, what it cannot do, and what it costs. Then if change occurs in this area, you are prepared. You know what choices you can make, how they will perform, and what the side effects of them are.

Effective experimentation is not a random search, however. Each experiment should be carefully designed and based in a clear hypothesis. Without this discipline, the essential learning will not occur. Keep notes on the conditions of each experiment and the conclusions you can draw from it. Then plan the next round.

This may seem expensive, but computer technology has made many types of experimentation ten to one hundred times faster and cheaper than formerly, which opens vast new possibilities for trying things out in advance. Like other flexibility techniques, it is cheaper and more feasible if you can limit the areas of likely change in the design and then only use the tool there. That is, consider flexibility a selective tool rather than a universal one.

For more on this, see our list of references, especially Thomke’s book, Experimentation Matters.

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

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