Friday, March 13, 2009

Firetruck project proves hot task for systems team - SDM Pulse, Spring 2009

By Jorge E. Amador, SDM ’08

Editor’s note: The following article is based on a presentation created jointly by Ásbjörg Kristinsdóttir, Antonio Del Puerto, Charbel Rizk, and Jorge E. Amador.

From left, Antonio Del Puerto, Charbel Rizk, Ásbjörg
Kristinsdóttir, and Jorge E. Amador, outlined a better
way to manage the manufacture of firetrucks for their
class project in system project management.
Most of the core courses in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program give students an opportunity to apply the concepts they’ve learned to real-world environments—but not everybody gets to work on firetrucks.

This past fall, four students in Professor Olivier de Weck’s class in system project management had the opportunity to help E-ONE, a leading manufacturer, designer, and marketer of firefighting apparatus and equipment, to develop a set of best practices for product development for a class project.

Ásbjörg Kristinsdóttir (LFM ’08 and current PhD student), Antonio Del Puerto (SDM ’08), Charbel Rizk (SDM ’08), and Jorge E. Amador (SDM ’08) teamed up to help E-ONE analyze the development of a new entry-level pumper truck (code name TES).

In class, de Weck teaches a series of management principles and methodologies to plan and implement system and product development projects. The SDM team set out to use these tools to analyze and document the TES project and establish best practices for the company.

E-ONE typically produces fully customized trucks to order. The TES was a new approach for the company, offered with a complete set of pre-engineered options. This new program also had a compressed schedule—just six months for product development—giving all stakeholders a sense of urgency.

Goals for the class project were established through a series of discussions among the company, the team, the faculty mentor, SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace, and the course teaching assistant, Athar Syed, SDM ’07.

The three main goals were to:

• Suggest a better sequence for the TES project tasks
• Suggest the application of new methodologies for project management that could be used for future projects
• Provide upper management with a clear view of all the tasks needed for product development

To meet these goals, the team decided to create a unique work breakdown structure (WBS) for the project and to analyze the task relationships using a design structure matrix (DSM). The SDM team took a three- phase approach:

Phase 1: Product familiarization.
To learn more about firetrucks, their usage, and the perceived quality of E-ONE products, the team visited several fire stations in Boston. Members also researched the firefighting apparatus market and investigated competitive products.

Phase 2: Data gathering and company visit.
Peter Guile, CEO of E-ONE, visited MIT early in the semester and provided the team with details about the
company’s business models and product plans. In addition, several conference calls were held with the TES engineering and project management team to define an initial WBS.

The SDM team then traveled to E-ONE’s corporate offices in Ocala, Fla., and conducted two days of interviews with 16 engineers and managers. These interviews added to the team’s understanding of the tasks and project details needed for the design of the TES.

Phase 3: Analysis and model development.

The team developed the final WBS for the TES program and performed the task dependencies. A DSM was created to analyze these dependencies and to explore the possibility of improving the sequence of tasks for future projects.

The most onerous part of the project was coming up with a reliable WBS, understanding the company’s needs and processes, and carefully mapping the dependencies. The interviews at the company revealed that each department (sales, product management, engineering, and manufacturing) had its own way of working, even using different task names to describe the same types of work. This legacy system of silos of expertise created significant issues in product development, manufacturing, and quality.

Although the company recently reorganized into value streams to “break down” these silos, there is still work to be done. In some cases, engineers seemed to think it was unnecessary to communicate engineering changes and improvements—an engineering area might release its parts to production without knowing how they would interact with the rest of the components. The SDM team’s new work breakdown structure was designed to address this issue.

Next, the SDM team set up the DSM to perform the analysis. The final DSM was a matrix of 114 by 114 elements, and it was necessary to use a combination of PSM 32 software and some manual manipulation to perform the analysis.

The design structure matrix was a very useful tool for observing and analyzing the relationship among the tasks needed to create the TES firetruck. Overall, six meta-tasks were identified, and 10 areas were found in which the project might hit a rework cycle due to the late discovery of various issues. The sequence of tasks created by the SDM team should make future projects more efficient.

The SDM team helped E-ONE create an integral product development process that will reduce time to market for new products. The DSM allowed the company to gain visibility of all tasks needed to launch a new product as well as the dependencies among tasks that are critical to establishing a useful schedule using the critical path method (CPM). Finally, the company will be able to use the results of the DSM analysis to better allocate resources.

Going forward, the team recommended that E-ONE continue to analyze the product development process, defining task durations more accurately in order to set up a CPM and identify critical tasks for better control. In addition, the company was advised to study the possibility of implementing the use of the DSM throughout the organization to highlight dependencies among different projects and teams.

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