Japanese manufacturers’ ability to offer quality, reliable products at competitive prices has helped the country beat competitors in the global marketplace for many decades.
Now that it has reached its maximum market potential, it must do more to create innovative products. Japanese manufacturers’ new strategy is “experience-value capturing technical design,” meaning that designers and engineers will bounce ideas off each other to develop products designed with user comfort and enjoyment foremost in mind.
This strategy requires design/technical design teams to determine user needs and experiences at the onset of the design process.
Designers will seek the insights of those familiar with user-related issues, including cultural phenomena, before selecting a product’s colors, shapes, or materials. Technical designers will also delve into user data to understand customers’ desires and will collaborate with designers to develop the products’ technical features.
This experience-value capturing technical design process contrasts with the conventional technical specification design process, which relies largely on the ideas of production teams.
Design Management for Cross-disciplinary Teams (DMCT) is a project that studies how to implement experience-value capturing technical design and hammer out a best business management model for it.
The project is supported by the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation's (CSTI)
Strategic Innovation Program (SIP) under the theme of “Innovative Design/Manufacturing Technologies”.
The DMCT project brings together manufacturing sector leaders, think-tanks and academic institutions to usher in the new era of manufacturing.
The new strategy will obviously not succeed without free-flowing communication and exchanges of ideas among designers and engineers. Manufacturers must create an environment that encourages those professionals to step out of their highly specialized fields and share their expertise and imaginations. The DMCT project creates a mechanism for developing, testing and validating the best organizational management methods in order to break down communication silos and foster cross-disciplinary and cross-supply chain interactions and collaborations.
Research and Development Project Leader
National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)
Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute
Principal Research Manager
Exchanges of ideas, knowledge, and data between upstream and downstream industries hold the key to innovative design specifications
Japan’s manufacturing sector has well-streamlined supply chains consisting of various industries. Downstream companies have many different midstream industries supporting them, and midstream companies have many more upstream industries serving their needs. Overall, business cascades down like a river running from a mountain peak to the bottom.
Commodities flow seamlessly from upstream industries to their downstream counterparts in all corners of the sector.
Manufacturers have not been using these relationships to their creative advantage, however. Under ideal circumstances, a downstream manufacturer might discuss its vision for a new product with a parts supplier, which, in turn, might offer to custom-design parts for an additional product feature that the downstream company never imagined was possible. In reality, however, upstream and downstream partners rarely, if ever, engage in such bouncing-off of ideas. Because upstream industries lack access to user data for downstream products, they try to minimize business risks by providing only what their downstream partners request. Downstream industries are also not accustomed to getting their upstream partners involved in product design and engineering.
This means that Japanese manufacturers are missing out on the benefits of having top-notch talent pools. The parts industry, in particular, has many innovative companies with highly competitive workforces that dominate international markets. Industries have tremendous potential for developing superior products and taking bites out of their rivals’ market shares.
We believe that fostering ongoing dialogues between upstream and downstream partners is the key to unlocking the potential for innovative design and engineering. Collaborative environments should energize the sector and lead to products that provide optimal user experiences. They will also protect manufacturers from the negative consequences of communication breakdowns, such as the misinterpretation of market data by a downstream company trickling up a supply chain, causing parts suppliers to mass-produce parts for soon-to-be-discontinued products.
Organizational reform for user-centered designs:
Making all business units equal partners in product development
For decades, Japanese manufacturers excelled at tsukuri-komi, the process of designing products that fit into predetermined physical and financial parameters. This typically started with a review of the functionalities and prices of their and/or the rivals’ products. Manufacturers would consider how to drive down production costs or improve the products without having to spend very much to redesign them or refit their factories. The process relied heavily on hard numbers and technical details, with no input from other units more in tune with user needs. Design/engineering, marketing, and sales departments would all help to make the production team’s plan work.
The new experience-value capturing technical design puts the innovation team-the designers and engineers with the imagination and inventive skills to think up and work out a product?at the center of product development. The innovation team serves as the hub of an organizational wheel, with all other units supporting it as equal partners, feeding ideas back and forth amongst each other. The new model demands that every department step up and do its part to develop innovative products that consumers will want.
Most importantly, it requires that the innovation team demonstrate strong communication skills in order to bring together all business units to work towards the same goal.
Creating high-value products and systems:
Corporate management and environment for making the most of design specification talents
The goal of the project is to help Japanese manufacturing industries draw upon their technological strengths to gain a commanding lead in global markets. We will research effective management strategies for promoting cross-industry and cross-disciplinary collaborations to help create highly innovative products.
Improving user experiences requires the empowerment of all employees, particularly sales and marketing staff, to become key contributors in product design and engineering. Their insights will help the design and engineering team create innovative products and draft blueprints.
The design process management model we are developing will put an innovation team at the center of the operational flowchart. The channels of communication connect the innovation team with each of the other units, like the spokes of a wheel.
We will also study the industry structures that encourage interactions among all stakeholders, including consumers and service industries working for manufacturers, as part of the new design process.
Experience-value capturing technical design encourages a large number of people to stay in constant communication. While this approach allows manufacturers to tap into the expertise and perspectives of a cross-section of professionals, multilateral communication can slow down decision-making.
Imagine an one-hour brainstorming session involving four participants. Each person would have an average of 10 minutes for one-on-one conversations with other participants.
Double the number of participants to eight, and the time available for one-on-one conversations decreases dramatically.
The more people who join a conversation, the less likely they are to understand each other. Factoring in all perspectives requires a corresponding increase in decision-making time. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page also presents challenges.
We will research and develop communication mechanisms that can move conversations and projects forward effectively and efficiently while involving a cross-section of professionals in the conversation. The research subjects will include direct, in-person communication as well as an effective usage of technologies designed for multilateral communication. Examples of the use of the technologies include the potential creation of affinity diagram software.
Target milestones towards the adaptation of experience-value capturing technical design
We plan to develop the following as steps towards the successful implementation of a new experience-value capturing technical design process in the manufacturing sector:
(1) Strategies for promoting collaborations within an organization
In the new design process, design/technical design teams serve as the nerve center of product planning/development. The team’s success depends on the level of collaboration among cohort departments such as sales, marketing, and production, as well as the depth and range of their insights. We will develop design process management strategies for mobilizing cohort departments to collaborate and make the most of the new organizational flowchart. For example, sales and marketing staff will be encouraged to suggest desirable product features from their or users’ point of view. They will no longer have to speak in the manufacturer’s language. Information about products under development will be circulated throughout an organization.
Companies will rarely withhold information as a trade secret, promoting free exchanges of ideas among internal stakeholders. We will also research and develop computer software for use in facilitating the management of these design processes.
(2) Strategies for spurring cross-industry and cross-sector collaborations
We will develop strategies for promoting interactions among organizations and industries, as exchanges of ideas are vital to experience-value capturing technical design. Cross-industry and cross-sector collaborations often require long-distance communication. Therefore, we will study ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of video conferences and other means of virtual communication. For example, people in different time zones can continue communicating without talking to one another if they insert their comments in online documents to be shared by all meeting participants. Digital environments that facilitate virtual communication, as well as effective conference preparation and post-meeting data/document filing systems, are among our research subjects.
(3) Methods of quantifying the effectiveness of the design process
During this project, we will conduct a biennial survey among companies participating in DMTC to assess their return on investment through the experience-value capturing technical design process (an assessment of the ratio of product development cost to revenue). This survey will be the first of its kind in the nation.
Creating an R&D system incorporating “design thinking” approaches:
Game plan focused on an emergent strategy rather than a deliberate strategy
We believe we can continuously improve management strategies as an R&D group if we have partnering teams that put the strategies to test and use the products. Some manufacturers are ready to serve as the former team.
Independent of the DMTC, these companies will make their own decisions about what products to make. We will also create a “consortium for design effectiveness,” consisting of various types of manufacturers, that will serve as the test-user team. These three teams will each contribute inputs for one another to improve what they do. This triadic framework is specifically designed for outcome-oriented research and development instead of output-oriented academic research. Unlike output, one cannot control outcomes.
In this framework, all three teams think and act independently. For the consortium, we intend to have one participating firm from each of many industries, such as construction, transportation, parts supplies, apparatus, heavy industry, electronics, and furniture and household items. It is important that the consortium membership be diverse, as we intend to develop “template” management systems for experience-value capturing technical design for the manufacturing sector. We envision that these templates will be used to develop management system software for this new design process as well.