As technology advances and the time to market shortens, manufacturers need a faster and more exact product developing process. Why is DFX the answer? Why can it replace the traditional developing process? And how does it work?
Imagine you're the design manager of a smartphone company. Your teams have come to you with several designs for the new cutting-edge smartphone. You inspect each phone and go through its features.
Even though they all look and function the same, you spot slight differences in each design. The first is cutting edge innovation, addressing all that the customer needs and wants. The second is just an incremental improvement, but so easy to assemble! The third incorporates easy access for the technicians, making it the easiest to fix. Yes, it may be a pickle.
How do you, as a design manager, determine which features take priority and should be developed into the brand-new smartphone of the future? The answer is – DFX.
Design For X (DFX) is a design methodology and philosophy, accompanied with a structured process and tools to create a wholesome product, that takes into account different aspects and business needs in the design stage.
In the global business environment of today, there is intense pressure for manufacturers to provide superior value to their customers. In fact, there are many different ways to do so: make the product easier to use, lower the price, improve reliability, lengthen the product life, reduce environmental impact, and more.
In this technological and economic environment, DFX helps manufacturers ensure that all factors critical to the product's design have been considered during every step of the development phase. DFX guarantees a superior product that customers prefer over competition, and addresses business needs at the same time.
Why should a company take a second look at the traditional design process, and consider DFX? Why should it change its whole design methodology?
In the traditional design process, functions are siloed, and have responsibilities for different stages in the process. The traditional design process starts when Leadership identifies the need for a new product. R&D ideates on solutions for the need, and suggests several ideas to the design team. Then, the designs are handed over to engineers, who come up with the manufacturing process, trying all the while to minimize costs. Once this phase is complete, marketing performs the demand analysis, understanding what the profit margins can potentially be.
At each of these steps in the traditional design process, there is a high risk of sending the product back up the design funnel, due to misalignments and lack of communication. This often leads to extended and delayed time to market, wasteful reworking, an eternal tug-of-war between the siloed functions, and even missing the purpose for which a product was developed.
But we need to remember, the fact that today’s technology is changing rapidly cannot bear slow time to market; products are constantly being replaced with new ones, leading tech companies to be on the edge at all times and develop the next new thing at a faster pace. Traditional design processes just can’t keep up with it. But the DFX process can. How?
The DFX process differentiates from traditional design processes in a very important manner: it can reduce the amount of rework through cross functional collaboration in the design phases, thus reducing workload, cost, and product maintenance costs, and increasing product lifetime – and time to market.
What does a DFX process look like? New project charters start with identifying a compelling business need. As with other traditional design processes, the DFX process begins with a project charter from Leadership.
As the name implies, different “X”s are the key to achieving success in the design phase. “X” can be defined by a company to be any feature, but the prevailing “X”s commonly used by engineers and designers:
Fig. 1: The different “X”s of DFX
The “X”s are chosen by Leadership, and different weights are given to the “X”s in order to best communicate the need a project is answering and set its priorities. As opposed to the traditional design process, each “X” may entail a certain number of questions, of which the team has got to think in advance. This way the team doesn’t find out about critical, unanswered design questions or demands at the end of the design process.
This allows the design team to align on the needs, and set a clear path to success. For example, for gaining market share, a stronger emphasis on perceived value should be considered. To increase profits, cost and manufacturability will stand above other “X”s.
An integral part of the project charter is the assembly of the DFX team. The design team includes early involvement from members of the different departments. Typically, the team will involve R&D, engineering, product designers, marketing, and any other department that will be engaged in the design at some point in the process.
During the design process there are certain phases called "Stage Gates". In these “Stage Gates”, or milestone meetings in the design process, the DFX teams present their work to business leaders. These Stage Gates also provide Leadership with a clear view of the product's progress.
Members of the DFX team from the different functions prepare for these meetings, assuring early consideration to the different factors. In these meetings, trade-off questions arise, and are answered through a quantitative scorecard that is aligned with the different “X”s and their predetermined weights, as defined in the project charter.
This facilitates Leadership decision making. In early Stage Gates, several designs are presented, and at every gate the selection narrows, until one design is triumphant – one design that best answers the different “X”s.
The process is supported by a set of different tools that assure every aspect of every “X” is considered in the process, and provide clear comparisons and decision making between different designs. The tools come with scorecards, allowing clear value of every design concept.
One tool, the Trade Off Tool (a tool that compares between the weight that Leadership decided to give each “X”), facilitates business leadership in articulating project priorities, and allows choosing one concept over another.
Another tool is actually a set of tools, containing a comprehensive list of guidelines for each “X”. This includes, for example, considering using standard tools and equipment as part of the manufacturing guidelines; designing discretion features for perceived value of certain products (such as in the medical device industry); and more.
Fig. 2: Trade Offs for the different "X"s
While the end result is a welcome and necessary change, the process described above is different than what companies are used to. The mindset of everyone involved in the design process has to be changed, because DFX means cultural change. It can be successfully implemented – only with close attention to organizational culture.
Establishing a cultural change sprouts cross functional cooperation, and ties together the people with the new process and tools. This is why Management has to provide strong endorsement and commitment to it.
During the DFX process, communication is important, highlighting the benefits for each individual in the design team: decision making tools for Management, clarity and reduced rework for members of the design teams, influence on design for engineers, and assuring the product actually meets market demand in the marketing department.
After understanding the theory of DFX process, let’s take a look at a real-life DFX Case Study.
A global medical device manufacturer was experiencing pains in the new product development process. Time to market for new projects was planned for a year, but in practice took two. Marketing would receive new products with impossible costs and margins to make business sense. Engineering would rework and struggle to cut costs on designs received from R&D, and R&D had little clarity of Leadership priorities. A solution was necessary.
Partnering with Tefen, the company set to establish a DFX culture. DFX champions – the team that was combined from all the company’s department – were selected from all the company's functions. This new DFX team began diagnosing the existing culture: Management commitment and guidance, the tools in place, and the process.
What was discovered was, that while there was some understanding of DfM (Design for Manufacturability) in the organization, no other tools or “X”s were being used. In addition, Management had trouble choosing one design over another.
In order to maximize the cultural effect and buy in from all members of the organization, from Management to execution, Tefen conducted joint workshops with the DFX champions in the organizations that lead the change in the company. This collaborative effort facilitated the cultural change, as the different functions had the chance to weigh in.
The joint team started with defining the most relevant “X” in the industry. Next, a comprehensive list of guidelines and considerations was mapped for each “X”. A Trade Off Tool was developed to facilitate decision making.
Tefen improved the project charters by including priorities to “X”s, and assigning cross-functional members for the design team. These adjustments that were made to fit the stage gating process guaranteed the usage of the DFX methodology in the project and the organization.
The change provided much necessary results. Management had a new way to articulate priorities, a clear way to measure success and facilitated decision making. Rework was reduced, and overall communication within the organization increased. And most importantly, time to market accelerated.
As product life cycles become shorter and shorter, executives must take action to accelerate time to market for new products, without sacrificing other value propositions of the product. Perceived value, manufacturability, target costs, reliability and other factors are all important for businesses.
By setting a DFX process in the organization, along with proper supporting tools and endorsing the DFX culture, guarantee proper alignment of product design with priorities set by executive Leadership. It assures a lean, speedy time to market, with less expenses along the R&D process.
Written by Tom Amborgio and Ben Arbov, consultants
Monopoly Building, Operational Excellence, Change Management & Supply Chain Expert