by Randi S. Brenowitz and Kathleen T. Terry

This article originally appeared in the Conference Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for Quality and Participation, April 1994

Cutting time to market is the biggest issue in American industry today. Progressive companies are using concurrent development teams as a way to attack this problem.

Also called concurrent engineering or multi-functional engineering, concurrent development involves selecting people from different functional departments such as engineering, manufacturing and marketing to form a semi-autonomous work group for new product development. Concurrent development teams have achieved extraordinary success. They have been able to speed product development, design better quality products and services, achieve continuous process improvement and lower the cost of operations.

Start-up companies use this approach almost intuitively. It has also been employed by Japanese firms and by companies such as Eastman Kodak and Ford Motor. It is increasingly used by most Fortune 1000 corporations.

Large organizations tend to develop a steep hierarchical structure that doesn't facilitate ready information transfer and coordination among departments. However, intensified global competition has forced companies to re-think many of the ways they do things, and "throwing it over the wall" from marketing to engineering to manufacturing is no longer acceptable.

Dramatic improvements can be achieved with concurrent development teams. According to a 1988 study from the Institute of Defense Analysis, they can cut the product development cycle by 40 to 60%, reduce manufacturing costs by 30 to 40%, slash scrap and rework by 75%, and cut engineering change orders by 50%.

If it's so great, why aren't all companies using it? Because although it's a powerful methodology that's easy to understand, putting it into practice can be difficult. Top management involvement is required, and functional department managers must be willing to provide resources to support the ream. Companies must also makes some changes in organizational structure, such as giving team leaders strong input for performance evaluations and salaries. If functional managers continue to control the purse strings exclusively, team members will be loyal to their functional departments rather than to the team.

How can companies assure the success of concurrent development teams? A team must be an integral part of the company's strategic direction, not a separate organization. It's analogous to adding a room to a house. It's essential that the new room be connected to the rest of the structure with doors, electricity and plumbing. In the same way, it's essential that functional organizations be restructured to accommodate the new team. Functional managers also must be willing to accept the idea that the team has decision-making authority, with the functional departments acting as centers of technical excellence, education and resources.

Selecting a team leader who has a strong, long-term commitment to the concurrent development process and its improvement is essential. The leader must remain committed to the process even when there are problems and it's easier to do things the old way.

To be most successful, multi-functional teams must be properly initiated and their development managed. Sound work process and continuous learning are also necessary. Hence, companies often use a consultant who is trained in concurrent development methodology when they architect a new team.

Once team members have been selected, a facilitator walks them through the process of identifying their project goals and details such as product specs. They also agree on values and norms, including decision making, conflict resolution and progress measurement. On concurrent development teams, the process itself is as important as the technical work.

The second stage of development occurs a few months later and is a reality check against the decisions that were made in the first stage. How does the team really work together? How are conflicts really resolved? Are the functional departments giving adequate support? The team also discussed and implements a peer review process.

In the third stage, a periodic check is make on how well them team is working together. Both business goals and concurrent development process goals are reviewed. Experienced managers say that the most successful teams pursue process improvement as avidly as the pursue products development.

Lester C. Thurow, a professor a Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has recognized the importance of the organization and group structure. He says, "America's success or failure will depend upon improving its system, but structural changes are not possible when success or failure is seen as and individual phenomenon rather than a system or group characteristic." This is exactly the problem that concurrent development solves.


Blackburn, Joseph D. ed. Time-Based Competition. Hornewood, IL; Business One Irwin, 1991.

Larson, Carl E and Lafasco, Frank M. Teamwork: What Must Go Right/ What can go Wrong. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1989.

Meyer, Christopher. Fast Cycle Time. New York: The Free Press, 1993.

Rumler, Geary A. and Brache, Alan P. Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990.

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