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Accelerating Product Development

Although there are acronyms abounding, the bottom line is this: Hewlett-Packard is a renowned manufacturing company that has learned things about product development that can be helpful to your company's achieving faster times to market—and yes, we mean companies that aren't making printers.

The observations sound familiar: "Our diversity of manufacturing is unique. And we have so many product design centers, our internal challenge is to reduce the time it takes to develop a product in half and to effectively reuse developments from one design center to another. How do you take the speed of product design to next level?" No, that isn't someone from a major auto company talking. Rather, that's Bruce Toal, Hewlett-Packard Global Extended Manufacturing's marketing director.

The solution that HP has developed is concentrated on what's called "product lifecycle collaboration" (PLC) which has three primary elements:
1. Extensive collaboration
2. Common business processes
3. Effective use of sustaining technologies.

According to Toal, at HP they are working to extend PLC throughout the entire enterprise—as well as through the company's supply base. While he acknowledges the importance of internal harmony, he points out, "More important is having suppliers collaborate with the designs." After all, for HP—as well as for many manufacturers—outsourcing is the name of the game, so if the companies that are supplying products aren't on-board with the development methods—or as he describes it, getting "all constituents moving in the same direction with a methodology and a set of standards to accomplish a goal"—then there is a strong likelihood that there will be waste in the system. That is something that no one can afford. (By the way, HP has on the order of 85,000 suppliers, not all of whom are at the same level on the PLC journey.)

Figuring that what they've learned, and are learning, is useful and valuable to others, HP and Deloitte Consulting have created a global alliance to serve customers in the manufacturing sector with the means by which they can create common product information processes that can help speed development.

Deploying CM. One of the tools that Toal says is important is something that is probably more familiar to people in the computer industry (especially in software development) than elsewhere: Configuration Management (CM). Toal points out that HP practitioners involved in PLC management have achieved CMII certification from the Institute of Configuration Management (ICM; Scottsdale, AZ).

So, to make this somewhat more clear, these are definitions of CM and CMII from ICM:

"CM is the process of managing product, facilities, and processes by managing their requirements, including changes, and assuring that results conform in each case. The best CM process is that which can best (1) accommodate change, (2) accommodate the reuse of standards and best practices, (3) assure that all requirements remain clear, concise and valid, (4) communicate (1), (2) and (3) promptly and precisely, and (5) assure conformance in each case. CMII is CM plus continuous improvement in all five."

Essentially, there is an emphasis on commonality, communications, adherence to practice, and, of course, continuous improvement.

How & Who? Asked about how the PLC consulting service works, Toal says that the approach is to start with a diagnostic tool that helps identify the as-is condition of the organization. This tool is based on metrics and milestones that have been deployed/assessed at HP, so this is based on something that's tangible. Once that's determined, then the next question that needs to be addressed is what the firm's goals are, and how aggressively they plan to pursue them.

To be sure, part of this is purely cultural. Another element is technical. Not surprisingly, Toal talks about using the Internet to leverage communications. He also acknowledges that companies now tend to have a variety of tools—CAD/CAE/CAM/PLM/etc.—and that PLC is complementary in the context of better deploying these tools, rather than necessarily recommending that they be pulled out and replaced.

Given that PLC and CM are probably foreign to many people within organizations, who would be responsible for initiating such a program? "Typically a CIO in conjunction with product line management," he answers. When 30% to 50% reductions in development cycles are being talked about in relation to PLC programs, presumably there are few in an organization in positions of responsibility who can afford to be disinterested in PLC.