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Parallel Prototyping to Optimize Process Designs

Have you ever been part of poorly run projects? Experienced analysis paralysis? Been frustrated by costly overruns or implementation delays? If so, consider how parallel prototyping can help you harness the power of all team members to create more optimal processes, while avoiding the pitfalls associated with large teams trying to reach consensus.

I was recently involved in a project team meeting, one of the best of my career, as one of 15 team members rather than the project team leader. The first half of the meeting involved guided discussion where team members explored constraints and possibilities of how to design a complex process. But our group was riddled with parallel discussions, and the team’s leader was challenged to moderate one conversation at a time so that everyone’s creative solutions could be heard.

During the second half of the meeting, the group broke into three groups of five, each assigned the same problem in the same constraints. After about a half hour of whiteboarding in each of the three groups, we regrouped and debriefed. While some portions of the solutions were similar, each subgroup had one to two very different elements based on how individuals interpreted the constraints and prioritized the requirements. It was timely, efficient, and extremely productive. Since I first learned about the concept of parallel prototyping years ago, it was the most effective implementation I’d seen—but in the context of process design.

Traditional parallel prototyping, as opposed to iterative development, involves two or more engineering teams working with the same product requirements, time constraints, budget, and resources. What research showed in paralleled prototyping was that even given the same goals, different creative development resources yielded vastly different solutions. Rather than choosing one winning design, the best concepts were harvested from each team to create and optimize the design.

Parallel prototyping in the context of product development is challenging for several reasons. First, new product introduction (NPI) schedules and resources to fully staff more than one team are typically tight. It also requires budget to prototype each team’s design. When designs are prototyped, some concepts just won’t prove to be successful. What parallel prototypes will prove is that there are several viable ways to solve complex design challenges.

When it comes to process design, parallel prototyping can help overcome many challenges, especially when deploying a product lifecycle management (PLM) software system. The ultimate goal is to speed NPI processes with a process that:

  1. Takes advantage of cross-functional team members from impacted departments, each with different experiences and perspectives.
  2. Reduces cost and time to develop processes—subcommittees whiteboard proposals to be configured for a conference room pilot.
  3. Increases buy-in by stakeholders who each contribute to the design.
  4. Overcomes groupthink by working in subcommittees, allowing valuable input from all members, not just the dominant voices.
  5. Optimizes creative solutions and consideration of various options, given individual assumptions and the wide range of backgrounds of the steering committee members.

On a recent customer project, I also encountered analysis paralysis with my team and we addressed it with parallel prototyping. Core team members were unable to visualize how a new process would look and feel to the end users based on flow charts. In order to get “unstuck,” we configured two different process prototypes for conference room pilot. In the end, no single solution was fully adopted out of hand. The final solution included best inputs from both process designs.

Parallel prototyping was more cost effective than fully developing one solution that was suboptimal. We would have incurred training and deployment costs and delayed our ability to go live. In addition, team members would have had a harder time ignoring sunk costs—possibly attempting to iterate enhancements on top of a suboptimal solution.

Parallel prototyping is an especially important approach when implementing a PLM system. Manual processes don’t typically translate well into PLM because real-time visibility and access to data remove manual process constraints. Often, you just have to engage in process re-design and parallel prototypes so your stakeholders can put the processes through their paces.

As you consider the most effective way to streamline and accelerate your NPI processes, remember the lessons gleaned from parallel prototyping. First, organize your teams with key representatives from impacted groups. Second, provide clear requirements and project constraints. And finally, divide into sub teams to leverage the power of parallel prototype process thinking to optimize the input from all team members. Whether you are implementing a new PLM system or setting up processes to speed NPI, parallel prototyping will help you reduce costs, speed deployment, and create optimal processes.

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