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Preliminary information, interdependence and task concurrency on product development (RV of 98/53/TM)

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With concurrent engineering now widely used in product development, project teams can no longer delay their work until all of the required information input has been made available, thereby starting their work "in the dark". In response to this challenge, engineering teams working in parallel routinely share preliminary information. Interestingly, although the concept of preliminary information is underlying most frameworks of concurrent engineering, little is known about the concept, both from a managerial and a theoretical perspective. In detailed fieldwork in a high-end German automotive manufacturer, the authors observe a number of engineering decisions over an extended period of time and thereby are able to document how preliminary information is initially communicated and then further refined over a series of information exchanges. Based on their documentation, they develop a model of preliminary information, with two dimensions. Information precision refers to the accuracy of the information exchanged. Information stability defines with what likelihood a piece of information will be changed later in the process. The model specifically addresses the trade-offs development teams face when exchanging preliminary information. Relying on precise information too early can lead to iterations and costly rework. On the other hand, insisting on stability requires the affected party to wait (negating the advantage of concurrency), or to develop multiple "alternatives" of its component, for example, by developing multiple costly prototypes. Deconstructing preliminary information and dependency in this way allows us to understand the underlying economic tradeoffs, and thus to hypothesize benefits of targeted coordination strategies. The authors' research is related to earlier work by Adler (1995) who argues that interdepartmental coordination needs in development change over the course of a project's life-cycle. They extend Adler's work by showing that the interdependence resulting from concurrency can only be understood in terms of problem solving progress at the micro-level of components or activities.

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