Most companies today use crossfunctional teams for new product development. As an idea moves through various stages to final product development, information needs vary for each unit and individual involved in this process. This presents companies with a dual challenge. On the one hand, to keep a project moving smoothly, people joining a team must gain knowledge of the current project quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, a company must try not to lose new product development knowledge when key people transfer to other departments or leave the company.
Study and Findings
In this study, the researchers describe the architecture of an information support system that facilitates information sharing in the new product development process: concurrent engineering information support system (CE-ISS). The system disseminates information to team members, but uses "filters" based on project stage, member involvement, and information category to ensure that each member receives only the information he or she needs. The CE-ISS adapts to members' needs as the project progresses and allows companies to build on learning gained in previous product development efforts.
The researchers then examine the implementation of the CE-ISS at a major computer hardware manufacturer. They found that the system saved time, improved report organization, anticipated future efficiency because it supported organizational memory, and increased team members' input on issue discussions.
Managers realize that the information exchange needs of new product development teams vary over time and across departments. By using a filter approach, systems can be developed to support these dynamic communication needs. Moreover, these systems can be developed using commercial off-the-shelf software.
In addition, the CE-ISS can improve the content and process memory of new product development teams. Managers need to limit the loss of organizational knowledge resulting from management transfers or departures. Records of historical decisions along with the logic that supports those decisions will help management move more quickly through current projects by bringing new team members up to speed quickly and by reminding managers on new projects of decisions made and processes used in previous projects. Current projects can be patterned from the successful elements of previous projects, eliminating unproductive processes and practices attempted in the past.
The improved communication and cooperation that the CE-ISS facilitates also increases the likelihood of new product success. Managers are more efficient, and meetings are shorter. Because so much information is exchanged prior to meetings, managers can use meeting time for situation analysis and issue debate rather than information dissemination.
Ramesh Sharda is Regents Professor of Management Science and Information Systems and Conoco/DuPont Professor of Management of Technology, College of Business Administration, Oklahoma State University. Gary L. Frankwick is Associate Professor of Marketing, College of Business Administration, Oklahoma State University. Atul Deosthali is an analyst at Dell Computer Corporation in Austin, Texas. Ron Delahoussaye is a lecturer at the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology, Oklahoma State University.
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