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Commentary: June 2005

By William M. Gascoigne, CoCreate Software

Team Design: You Can Get There from Here

So you have a design team. But do you have team design?

You may have heard the term “team design” used to describe a scenario where a number of contributors work toward a shared goal, each designing a part. As the design nears completion, the parts are combined into an assembly. Along the way, misunderstandings, cost and schedule overruns, missed opportunities for idea exchange, and rework might be taken for granted. This is how many companies develop products. But it’s not team design.

Here’s a different approach: A group of designers creates a series of parts, handing them off to each other and pulling in expertise, as needed, from a diverse group of contributors throughout development. It’s a flexible, concurrent, and innovative design process ideal for companies with aggressive schedules facing changing business conditions. This is true team design; with collaboration built in.

Recent research by the Aberdeen Group demonstrates that companies practicing team design hold the clear advantage in today’s consumer industries. The resulting collaboration reduces product development cycles by up to 20 percent and cuts product costs by nearly a fifth.
The team incorporates the core design team of key developers who are ultimately responsible for the design and an extended design team made up of core members as well as the other project contributors with whom they interact. This extended team often includes other contributors and representatives from marketing, customers, suppliers, manufacturing, and service or support providers.

Each discipline contributes a unique and necessary perspective, benefiting companies in numerous directions. For example, group decision making produces better decisions than individuals. Pulling multiple people into a design taps different viewpoints, creates a richer knowledge base, and encourages more eyes to spot problems early in the development cycle. The benefits include better quality, lower manufacturing costs, and lower service or warranty costs once a product goes to market. The team approach allows cross training, which eliminates isolated islands of knowledge that put companies at risk. And it also builds collective ownership, encouraging everyone to contribute new ideas.

But the teams need the right tools to succeed under today’s intense time-to-market pressures. A dynamic 3D CAD modeler with team-centric data management and effective collaboration tools will enable a productive team design environment. At the core team level, designers use a dynamic, history-free, modeling tool so any of the core team members can freely exchange designs at any point during development. A history-based tool, on the other hand, will make it difficult for anyone but the original creator to modify a part, and bottlenecks will discourage reuse of existing designs or making late changes.

Another key capability of the dynamic modeling tool is team-centric 3D data management. This gives the core team the ability to manage all of an assembly’s 3D parts, their relationships, and their revision histories. It can also lend support for the wider team perspective to include instant notification of all team members when a part is changed; side-by-side comparisons of parts before committing to changes; and protection from accidental overwrites or the use of outdated design versions.

Finally, team design requires tools to support rich interaction with the extended team. The ideal product focuses on collaborative design in a multi-CAD environment while providing multiple avenues for team members to interact and access project data. It also enables every type of team member to contribute, regardless of CAD expertise or location.

If you’re not practicing team design, maybe you should. Team design gets products out the door faster and allows for more design cycles within a set schedule, delivering better quality for less cost.

William M. Gascoigne is CEO of CoCreate Software, Inc. and has more than 30 years of experience in information technology business. He served as executive VP of worldwide operations for SDRC, and as VP of worldwide marketing at Applicon Inc. 

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