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Alternative strategies for coordinating interdependent tasks in concurrent engineering (RV of 2000/32/TM)

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Successful application of concurrent development processes (concurrent engineering) requires a tight coordination among development tasks. When tasks proceed in parallel, they must rely on preliminary information from other tasks, information that has not yet been finalized. This frequently causes substantial rework, amounting to up to 50% of total engineering capacity. Previous studies have either described coordination as a complex social process, or have focused on the frequency, but not the content, of information exchanges. An operational definition of the content of preliminary information is still lacking. Building on detailed fieldwork in a high-end German automotive manufacturer, the authors develop a framework of preliminary information in the detailed design phase. The framework distinguishes information precision and information stability. Information precision refers to the accuracy of the information exchanged. Information stability defines with what likelihood a piece of information is going to be changed later in the process. This definition of preliminary information allows us to develop a time-dependent model for managing interdependent tasks, leading to two alternative coordination strategies, iterative and set-based coordination. They explicitly discuss the trade-offs in choosing a coordination strategy and how this trade-off changes over time. This allows an organization to match its problem solving strategy with the interdependence it faces. In particular, set-based coordination requires an absence of ambiguity, and should be emphasized if either starvation costs or the cost of pursuing multiple design alternatives in parallel are low. Iterative coordination should be emphasized if downstream task faces ambiguity, or if starvation costs are high and iteration (rework) costs are low.

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