Samurai Sleuth: trimming time from an already lean product development cycle.

Author:Sleuth, E.M.
Position:Enterprise metrology sleuth

It was a time of celebration, but it did not last long. The ZipChem Metering Pump folks had just introduced an exceptional new product with greatly improved accuracy. Even better, it included a number of plastic components that dramatically reduced its selling price. And, best of all, the company had reduced its product development cycle to 25 months from its previous best of 33. The ZipChemmers were a force with which to be reckoned in their industry.


Sleuth, who joined the festivities, had made a big contribution to the concurrent engineering team's effort to reduce the programming logjam at the CMM so that prototype parts could speed through evaluation as soon as they came from the manufacturing source. They did this by moving to an almost total reliance on off-line CMM part programming and using a direct-to-CAD interface that eliminated any ambiguity that the use of CAD model file translations might introduce.

The frugal celebration consisted of pizza and soft drinks served at noon in a small conference room in the engineering department. The levity lasted all of 10 minutes when a dark cloud descended over the gathering in the form of none other than the CEO himself.

The challenge

"Hey guys, listen up," said the VP of engineering. "Mr. Beaker has a few words he would like to say to us."

The dozen or so people who had joined the celebration quickly took seats and fixed their gaze upon their leader.

"Gentlemen," he said (even though there were several women present), "I want you to know that I have just talked with our national sales manager, and he tells me that early feedback from our customers indicates that this new product is a real winner.

"However," he held out his hands and lowered his eyebrows in a gesture precisely calculated to stifle any cheers, "had we introduced it seven months earlier, which our plans called for, we'd be sitting pretty with 12 months of stronger sales and an improved market share.

"Now we'll have maybe a five-month opportunity to take advantage of our unique product. That means we have to accelerate our efforts to bring out ZipChem Generation II. If it doesn't launch 15 months from today or better--there will be hell to pay. Enjoy your party."

Later that afternoon, Sleuth got a call on his cell from the quality lab manager.

"You've got to help me," the manager said. "They're very serious about slashing the development cycle by 44 weeks and they want my department to contribute at...

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