Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1729359
 
 

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Back-Loading: A Potential Side Effect of Employing Digital Design Tools in New Product Development


Sebastian K. Fixson


Babson College - Technology, Operations, and Information Management Division; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Tucker J. Marion Sr.


College of Business Administration Northeastern University; Northeastern University - Entrepreneurship and Innovation

December 21, 2010


Abstract:     
Over the past twenty years, the use of digital design tools such as Computer-Aided-Design (CAD) has increased dramatically. Today, almost no product development project is conducted without the use of CAD models. Major advantages typically ascribed to using CAD include better solutions through broader exploration of the solution space as well as faster and less expensive projects through faster and earlier iterations. This latter effect, the shifting of simulation and testing traditionally accomplished with help of physical prototypes late in the process – a slow and expensive activity – to doing similar activities with virtual prototypes faster and earlier in the process, has been identified as a key aspect of front-loading, an activity shift promising to enable superior product development performance (Thomke and Fujimoto, 2000).

Given CAD’s recent pervasive use, the research questions for this article became how CAD use has actually changed the way in which product development is conducted, and through which mechanisms and pathways can CAD impact product development performance, especially with respect to the idea of front-loading? This article addresses these questions by studying in a longitudinal comparison in detail two similar product development projects, one conducted in 2001, the other in 2009. The projects were carefully selected to isolate the substantially higher levels of CAD use of the second project while controlling for most other input factors that influence project performance.

The project with substantially higher use of CAD exhibited significant improvements in prototyping costs but only marginal changes in project time and project engineering labor cost relative to the project with lower CAD use. In-depth intra-project analysis on the phase level reveals that the use of CAD affected how the product development was executed, with both positive and negative consequences. In addition to, and separate from positive aspects of front-loading, unintended consequences in the form of back-loading work are also observed. Back-loading can occur in two places in the product development process: First, the availability of CAD systems can cause an early jump into detail design, effectively shortcutting concept development. Second, the ability to relatively quickly conduct small changes virtually to the design can erode process discipline, late changes are made simply because they are possible. Both of these effects back-load work in the opposite direction of the positive front-loading. The theoretical implications of our observations are discussed and a simple framework to convert our findings into managerial advice is proposed.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: new product development, design, front-loading, computer-aided-design, CAD

JEL Classification: O31, O32

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Date posted: December 22, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Fixson, Sebastian K. and Marion, Tucker J., Back-Loading: A Potential Side Effect of Employing Digital Design Tools in New Product Development (December 21, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1729359 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1729359

Contact Information

Sebastian K. Fixson (Contact Author)
Babson College - Technology, Operations, and Information Management Division ( email )
Babson Park, MA 02457
United States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )
77 Massachusetts Ave.
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
Tucker J. Marion Sr.
College of Business Administration Northeastern University ( email )
304 Hayden Hall
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
Northeastern University - Entrepreneurship and Innovation ( email )
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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