2007: Driving product development with critical parameters management

Tracking critical design parameters with precision is a challenge in the face of rising product complexity.PLM analyst Michel Vrinat examines how products from Cognition Corporation can help. From the July 2007 edition of Engineering Automation Report, acquired in 2010 by Jon Peddie Research.

By Michel Vrinat

Engineering Automation Report, July 2007—Requirements management presents the first step towards good project execution by linking customer needs or market input with product specifications and actual performance targets. However, tracking the critical design parameters with precision, where a mistake can compromise or even jeopardize the entire project, is a challenge in the face of rising product complexity. Moreover, keeping critical data current and maintaining visibility for management based on real data presents the goal of Critical Parameters Management, or CPM.

Michel Vrinat

The new acronym, CPM, will quickly become very familiar to any project manager when they realize how the technology can dramatically improve their focus and control of product development. Cognition Corporation of Bedford, Massachusetts (www.cognition.us) embraced the concepts only a few years ago, after providing ideas management and general requirements management solutions adapted to the dynamic cycle that takes place in the early stages of project launch and product definition. Cognition’s Active Requirements Management implements CPM to facilitate the product development process in a way similar to what the Internet does for the world at large—it provides a constant, real-time connection between people, helping them share knowledge as it becomes available from a variety of sources.

In general, requirements management readily deals with a large amount of text that precisely defines technical requirements and detailed product specifications. But Cognition extends the capability thought or need that is expressed by the customer or the members of a marketing organization.

At this early stage, some industries must track the specific source of a requirement, its justification, and any discussion that led to its formulation. Later, if a change has to be made and the requirement needs to be re-evaluated, it will be necessary to remember why the requirement was expressed as it was and the context of the discussion and marketing approaches considered.

CPDA interviewed current user companies of the Cognition application, including Motorola; Raytheon; and Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD). All were extremely pleased with the product and the approach. As one of them said, spontaneously, “Any important engineering project should use Cognition’s CPM.”

The different levels of information and parameters to be managed during a development project begin at the highest level with the market requirements, or “Voice of Customer” in Cognition’s jargon. A limited number of critical parameters are then selected as “CTQs,” or Critical-to-Quality. Those parameters are translated into actual targets to be used as inputs for design and simulation for the solution being developed. Finally, all the detailed parameters and data are generated during detailed design phases.

From the original customer needs to the very large number of parameters that will directly drive product performance across the full design cycle, there is a need to closely track a limited number of critical parameters. They must be carefully selected and permanently linked with the necessary performance variables, supporting documents, and reports tracked by management executives.

But an even more important issue was mentioned by all the companies interviewed. They no longer can afford to rely on a qualitative point of view that the project’s critical tasks are on time or not, as represented by red, yellow, or green lights. They must avoid the simplification involved with single point estimates as parameters for time, quality, or cost variables. All the companies interviewed stated that they highly appreciate the ability to drive the project and product development from a range of values that define the bracket of acceptable performance.

That is a revolutionary approach for managing product development, which closely aligns strategic decision making and precise mathematical models in the same tool.

Every company rated this capability as a strategic advantage. All have clearly identified the ROI in terms of cycle time reduction, improved quality, and fewer waivers at the end of the product development phase. Several clearly position Cognition’s solution as the main component of their DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) strategy. One of them calls it SSPD, or Six Sigma for Product Development. The approach establishes and maintains direct references that link all critical parameters to the original requirement on one side, and to the detailed specifications needed for product development on the other side. Critical parameters may be extracted with the references that are directly linked to the requirements flow-down in order to maintain full traceability at each stage of refinement in requirements and specifications over the product development phases and across all disciplines.

The original customer’s requirements (Voice of Customer) are translated and linked to System Requirements that are themselves decomposed into multiple parameters. For each value of the parameters, a weighting can be established to highlight its contribution to the fulfillment of the customer requirements. Maintaining these scorecards and the relationship between parameters, system requirements, and customer requirements, is a key challenge in maintaining and boosting overall quality through the development process.

Cognition also supports the definition of the logical schema that has to be created from the requirements to define and support a system that will implement those requirements. Block diagrams can be built with full traceability of the parameters at each level of the flow down, with links defined across related block diagrams.

Overall, Cognition has introduced a shared, web-based backbone for requirements management linking critical parameters defined at the conceptual stage for system design with the detailed design parameters that drive geometry definition, as well as other artifacts necessary to fully specify a manufactured product. Cognition’s solution also provides traditional requirements management functions as a substitute for the traditional text-based requirements management tools. Or, the Cognition Cockpit can simply be linked to an existing requirements management application with the appropriate connector.

At the time of this writing, Michel Vrinat was PLM Research Director at Collaborative Product Development Associates, LLC, which was acquired in 2011 by CIMdata.