It’s All Connected

There’s a natural tendency to simplify, to reduce, to narrow. In the name of problem solving, it’s narrow the scope, break it into small bites, and don’t worry about the subtle complexities. And for a lot of situations that works. But after years of fixing things one bite at a time, there are fewer and fewer situations that fit the divide and conquer approach. (Actually, they’re still there, but their return on investment is super low.) And after years of serial discretization, what are left are situations that cannot be broken up, that cut across interfaces, that make up a continuum. What are left are big problems and big situations that have huge payoff if solved, but are interconnected.

Whether it’s cross-discipline, cross-organization, cross-cultural, or cross-best practice, the fundamental of these big kahunas is they cross interfaces. And that’s why they’ve never been attacked, and that’s why they’ve never been solved. But with payoffs so big, it’s time to take on connectedness.

For me, the most severe example of connectedness is woven around the product. To commercialize a product there are countless business process that cut across almost every interface. Here are a few: innovation, technology development, product development, robustness testing, product documentation, manufacturing engineering, marketing, sales, and service. Each of these processes is led by one organization and cuts across many; each cut across expertise-specialization interfaces; each requires information and knowledge from the other; and each new product development project must cooperate with all the others. They cannot be separated or broken into bits. Change one with intent and change the others with unintended consequences. No doubt – they’re connected.

Green thinking is much overdue, but with it comes connectedness squared. With pre-green product commercialization, the product flowed to the end user and that was about it. But with environmental movement there’s a whole new return path of interconnected business processes. Green thinking has turned the product life cycle into the circle of life – the product leaves, it lives it’s life, and it always comes back home.

And with this return path of connectedness, how the product goes together in manufacturing must be defined in conjunction with how it will be disassembled and recycled. Stress analysis must be coordinated with packaging design, regulations of banned substances, and material reuse of retired product. Marketing literature must be co-produced with regulatory strategy and recycling technologies. It’s connected more than ever.

But the bad news is the good news. Yes, things are more interwoven and the spider web is more tangled. But the upside – companies that can manage the complexity will have a significant advantage. Those that can navigate within connectedness will win.

The first step is to admit there’s a problem, and before connectedness can be managed, it must be recognized. And before it can become competitive advantage, it must be embraced.

2 Responses to “It’s All Connected”

  • Connectedness, Complexity, Considerations. Keep the decision funnel wide as long as possible in the product development lifecycle to learn as much as possible about the intricacies and interdependencies before selecting a design alternative that can deliver the best possible integrated product.

    Mike Shipulski has written an important discussion topic on why selecting an appropriate product development decision frame is necessary to design the right product to the tight requirements. For all product development leaders, a thought-provoking read!

  • Dave Enlow:

    Connectedness and the resulting complexities it drives are what makes some of our design projects truely a global exercise. Our project teams must, as Mike Traum said have a “wide funnel” of inputs to capture all of these issues that must be taken into consideration. We are so far past the low hanging fruit of lean design and now have the truely big complex meaty issues before us. But these are where the big payoffs come from. Designing a product that meets the demands for green, environmentally responsible manufacturing, stays green throughout it’s lifecycle and end of life decisions, while also meeting the criteria of being affordable, producible, reliable, sustainable, supportable, robust, etc, etc. Brings to mind that old saying about trying to please everyone. It’s a challenge, but worth the effort. Good article Mike, thought provoking.

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