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"Shortening Product Development Time through 'Front-Loading' Problem-Solving"

By Stefan Thomke and Takahiro Fujimoto


Shorter development lead times, other things being equal, contribute to competitive advantages in many of today's industries where market needs and available technologies are difficult to predict, rapidly changing or diversified and where novelty is highly valued in the market. In this paper, we focus on the identification and solving of development problems during earlier phases of product development -- a concept that we define as front-loading -- as a way to reduce development time and cost and thus free up resources to be more innovative in the marketplace. Using a problem-solving perspective of product development, we develop a conceptual model of front-loading and present related examples and case evidence from development practice. We propose that front-loading can be achieved using multiple approaches out of which the following two are presented in detail: (1) increased problem and solution-specific knowledge transfer between projects; and (2) higher rates of early problem-identification and solving through the effective deployment of advanced technologies and methods. The implications for managerial practice and theory are discussed and suggestions for further research are proposed.

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