The case represents the Front End of a product development process for Braun AG Company. The company is wishing to innovate on the currently existing KF 35 coffee Machine in order to stay atop the European and possibly United States coffee makers consumers. While the KF 35 machine had its success in the market, Braun AG hierarchy feels that it meant for the high-end market and largely neglected the other potential market segments. They are thereby attempting to come up with a new and unique machine that will combine uniqueness with affordability.
In this Front-End stage of the innovation process, the company brings together interdepartmental players to form a project management team. Leadership appears to offer opportunities for the project team to be as creative as they can while considering the practicability and feasibility aspects of the product in question. As our case comes to a close, we appear to display the equivocality of the members regarding the material that we should use in making the KF 40 coffee machine's water dispensing tank. We thereby decide to use the polypropylene plastic instead of the more costly polycarbonate material.
In part A of this study, thereby, the author presents the arguments that required intricate consideration during the project's front end process stages. The author also proposes a contrasting approach to the process of managing the product ideation and design process for Braun AG in part B.
PART A: Project Management - Braun AGIn this first section, the author discusses the actual product management process for Braun AG. We retrace the front-end phase stages, followed by the company of designing the KF 40 coffee machine. The author attempts to analyze their risk awareness, stakeholder engagement, project process groups, and the basic strategies that are essential in this beginning process of product development (DE MEYER, Loch & Pich, 2002).
Knut Samset begins the second chapter of their rightly named book "Making Essential choices with scant information" by lamenting that most project teams often begin their innovations processes at the planning stage (Samset, 2009). The companies often tend to focus more on doing things right at the expense of doing the right thing. He faults this approach to the front-end phase of innovations significantly. According to Samset, project teams must pay more attention to an even earlier stage of the beginning phase of project design.
Requirements analysis in project management is such an essential area of consideration for the real market success of a product or an innovation outcome (Samset, 2009; Cooper, 2008). This process involves a proactive, adequately planned effort to interact with the stakeholders in order to fully understand their needs and desires as regards the projected innovation. Any succeeding stages in the project management process must always stay sensitive to the desires expressed by the stakeholders in the requirements analysis stage.
The commencing stages of a project often begin with scanty information regarding the preferences and the interests of the customers and the other stakeholders. We then map out the project stages by the stage-gate method to improve the efficiency of the project (Cooper, 2008). Stakeholders sometimes tend to be unaware of what product requirements they wish to propose to the project team. However, stakeholders can open up entirely and open up about their expectations if the team engages with them empathetically to find their unrestricted input about the requirements. The project team should, thereby ideally conduct the needs assessment endeavors, are ideally conducted by such methods as normative approaches and interest groups (Naes, 2009; Cooper, 2008). One between the positivist or relativist viewpoints helps the project teams in analyzing these various stakeholder viewpoints to end up with a defined workable problem statement.
From the case of Braun AG's KF 40 coffee machine project, there seems to be a gazing misstep at the beginning of the product management period. In 1981, Greaves received the Chairman's memo and went to work to ideate for the firm towards a new coffee machine. It is not clear whether Greaves consulted the stakeholders extensively. They did not, however, extensively talk to the stakeholders to help them in informing the project initiation process. It is not clear how the design department empathized with the stakeholders during the problem framing stage that told the front-end phase (Freeze, 1990).
Greaves, however, did well to present a memo of the requirements analysis document to the project development team at the beginning of the front-end phase. He thereby presented the product design proposition, as well as the profit and cost versus volumes ratio. He also proposed - among other plausible ideas - the segmentation of the consumer market with the proposed product in order to cater to the diverse needs of the customers. Greaves thinks, however, that; "the key element to determining the viability of a filter-coffee machine entry is the investment/volume required" (Freeze, 1990; pg. 1045). His memorandum summary forgot somehow to include the desirability component of idea formulation.
Analysis of departmental requirements for the design, marketing, and manufacture was, however, adequately done within the firm - however informal. Such informal collaborations were essential in enhancing idea development and process tracing.
The Stage-gate system
The process of moving a project from the requirement analysis stage through the closing stage requires a proper roadmap (Cooper, 2008). Several renowned companies continue to apply the stage-gate system for new product development. These companies - who forced the hand of research to back their already thriving practice - believed in the need for a traceable project development blueprint (Cooper 2004).
According to the stage-gate system, the team divides the product development process into manageable stages - with each stage characterized by best practices (Cooper, 2008). The project team decides whether a project is still a 'go' or a 'kill' as the product innovation moves through 'gates.'
The idea-to-launch stage-gate-system is, however, not as linear as it may sound in the description. It instead encompasses a proactive process of continuous stage analysis for every process group. Ideas may either die through the gates, continue through the stages, or restart the initial stages. Widespread criticism of this stage-gate system involves its extensive bureaucratism and the ineffective gates. Authors ponder that only about a third of companies possess stringent limitations for products through the gates.
While applying the stage-gate theory to our case, it is evident that Braun AG traditionally has high standards set for new production processes. Due to rigid bureaucratization and weak stage gates, however, we observe a product increment like the coffee machine tank proceed through the scoping 'gate' into the planning and post-planning stages (Freeze, 1990). We could blame the porosity of gates to hierarchy and departmental seniority. Members such as Greaves Kahlcke appear to hijack the process and, as such, compromise its effectiveness and objectivity.
FuzzinessIn organizations, project management processes experience both measurable and 'true' uncertainties. These uncertainties define the risk factors of the project process. As per Knight (1921), we can only considerably estimate these uncertainties using probabilities. Risk management, therefore, involves scientific treatment of the unknowns that arise from the design and development process. In general terms, fuzziness in a project management process can come in the forms of uncertainties, complexity, equivocality, ambiguity, chaos (Bran, 2012).
In large organizations such as Braun, the project management team often runs the risk of complexity, uncertainty, and equivocality (Bran, 2012). Any hazy definitions of variables may lead to misinterpretations of facts and, as such, a lack of agreement on the project process. At Braun, for instance, the facts about the reasons purists presented for wanting to stick to the expensive model for the tank was unclear to the business and marketing department. They simply understood that the new material would work just fine and was cheaper. The experts in design were, however, reluctant to agree to this material, which, in their opinion, would compromise the product quality.
Daft & Lengel (1986, p. 556) define equivocality as "ambiguity, the existing of multiple and conflicting interpretations about an organizational situation." This definition can proceed to explain the dismissive relationship between the industrial design and marketing teams at Braun AG. Contrasting viewpoints always seemed to emanate from the two departments as marketing always felt industrial design lost touch with the realism on the ground. The interlocking of behavior between the two departments is thereby highly necessary if they are to work towards the same goals.
We can define ambiguity as a lack of frames of reference and interpretive knowledge (Bran, 2012). Some departmental players at Braun AG, thereby, appear as lacking the awareness of the potential impact of devaluing the expert viewpoint of the design department. Their reference frames for the project appear to incline solely on cost management and profit maximization. These differences in fundamental beliefs accompanied by a lack of definitive information in an area may cause expert rigidity among the opposing sides. Samnet (2009) rightfully claims that managers' intuition and preferences are the chief influences for the most ambiguous situations and decisions.
To understand the degree to which risks can impact our product process and outcomes, we must attempt to scientific determine the probabilities of such events and outcomes occurring. At Braun, thereby, it would have been worth analyzing the probability of the outcome while using the polypropylene as opposed to while using the polycarbonate material. Such mathematical analysis would then inform the choice between one of the two. It is interesting to note that the company tested the product parts in the field to understand their degrees of potential acceptance. Similar past projects may help to determine these statistical chances of the alternatives occurring (Bran, 2012; Rebiasz, 2007)). They must analyze the performances of the competitors with the parallel coffee machine projects using the polypropylene tanks.
During the life of the project, process groups serve to help see the project through the decision-making phases. There is a total of five sequentially aligned project groups throughout the life cycle of a project. These groups are the initiating process group, planning process group, executing process group, moni...
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