Automotive Director Program
It’s forbidden in sports, but it helps in product development: The early start. In lean development, this is called frontloading and it helps shorten development time.
Electronic vehicle access systems – today’s car keys – are highly complex high-tech products. They are usually only carried in jackets, pants or in a handbag. The driver moves toward the car and can open it. Then he takes a seat, presses the start button, and drives off. This feature is part of the current generation of Mercedes-Benz locking systems, for example, manufactured by the mechatronics company Marquardt, which is headquartered in Rietheim-Weilheim, Germany
Risky bidding phase
Such an access system consists of numerous components, including a control unit, the key itself, and the locking systems for the doors. These components have to work together precisely and perfectly. In total, such a “key” has to be easy to operate and offer protection against theft. Furthermore, it has to adjust flexibly to an OEM’s entire portfolio.
As in every development project, the basic rule applies: if something is changed in a late phase of development, it affects other components of the hardware and software. Parts of the development cycle have to be repeated – this is an expensive proposition that all companies want to avoid. In practice, the bidding phase is especially risky, for this is when the framework for product development and the construction of the ordered device are specified.
Later on, they cannot be changed or only with difficulty. Working with Staufen AG, in a pilot project, Marquardt GmbH developed a frontloading (see box) in order to be able to provide better, thus more reliable, bids in the future.
Development begins even during the bidding phase. This comes with a certain risk, since no company can win every call for bids. However, the project was very well-suited in this case. “Starting with a certain probability of the order being granted, frontloading is absolutely the right approach in the bidding process,” emphasizes Thomas Epple, Automotive Director Program Management Europe at Marquardt.
In Lean Development, frontloading is part of a holisticdevelopment approach that we recommend to our customers. Here, a manufacturer gathers as much data and information about the product as possible during the planning phase and links it to experiential knowledge from the specialized departments. In addition, a lean consultant integrates themselves into the manufacturer’s team and provides the benefit of expertise. The team members work closely together for a certain period and develop solutions for wide-ranging tasks, for example for a new product design or marketing, sales or production concepts. The frontloading concept is especially well-suited for these tasks.
Efficient work in the project space
In addition, with the frontloading project, Marquardt was not only able to optimize its bidding; in addition, thanks to its experiences, it was able to improve the product development process as a whole. Lean Development doesn’t just mean starting as quickly as possible. It also means providing the teams with the best framework conditions possible. That’s why Marquardt assembled a small but powerful team of cross-functional engineers and other experts from the company even during the first planning phase for the MercedesBenz project commissioned by Daimler AG.
This team moved into its own project space, which it occupied exclusively for the term of the project, and which enabled undisturbed work. There was also a temporal specification: the team members worked together in the team room on the development project every workday from nine to eleven in the morning. “This encourages concentrated, efficient work,” says Dino Munk, Senior Partner at Staufen AG.
„In addition, the people working on the project didn’t have to keep reserving work hours.“ In practice, this spatial and temporal separation provided great benefits as compared to other ways of working, as employees are also frequently working on other projects and they also have everyday tasks they have to perform. Thanks to the strict temporal specification, it was easier to justify perservering on the project to supervisors and colleagues and to take care of other tasks only later on.
The project space that could be locked and was only accessible to the team members increased efficiency, for the employees could always continue their work here. And of course, the project space also exists virtually. Thanks to the clear temporal specification, digital tools could be used very well in the project space – for example during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Customers will also profit from the faster development tempo
“In Lean Development, even simple changes to the way people work have a big effect,” explains Staufen consultant Munk. “They eliminate waste; in this case the employees’ time and effort.” And this is precisely the concern with frontloading. The bidding and planning phases require more work than usual. But simply avoiding late and thus inefficient changes frequently more than recoups the work in later project phases. Marquardt’s customers also know how to appreciate these benefits. “Daimler told us that the process was very well-structured, and the product was very mature, also from the customer’s perspective,” says Thomas Epple.
“Thanks to frontloading, the team was always in control of the situation and avoided unnecessary clarification loops.” The benefits of frontloading also became clear very quickly in everyday operation. The interdisciplinary cooperation speeds up projects and ensures that sales employees are able to communicate on an equal level with customers. “Thanks to frontloading, we can create more precise bids and complete acquired development projects more quickly,” says Marquardt manager Epple, “and this benefits not just us, but also our customers.”
“Starting with a certain probability of an order being granted, frontloading is absolutely the right approach in the bidding process.“