Concurrent Engineering Essay

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Concurrent engineering (CE) is an approach to new product development, which differs from the traditional approach because new product development tasks are performed simultaneously, instead of in a sequence. Another fundamental difference between CE and traditional product development is the fact that all relevant aspects of product development are considered throughout all phases, from product concept to delivery of the product to customers.

Historically, it is possible to trace the roots of a sequential or relay-like product development process to scientific administration. Roughly, the best way to have a large task (i.e., developing a new product) accomplished is to divide it into smaller tasks and complete them in a timely sequence. The process worked well for many years and still works in less dynamic markets.

In the 1980s, however, American manufacturers were trying to catch up with Japanese manufacturing prowess and they discovered, among other things, an entirely different way of managing product development. Two Japanese researchers, I. Nonaka and H. Takeuchi, published “The New New Product Development Game” in the Harvard Business Review in 1986. The article, an instant classic in business literature, exposed the underpinning philosophy of the Japanese way of developing products and sparked a movement that made concurrent engineering a mainstream approach to product development.

From the viewpoint of process, CE is nonsequential with upstream and downstream activities overlapped and generally processed simultaneously. Also, tasks are not distributed over the functional areas independently; commonly, they are interactively performed and managed according to cross-functional teams.

The first characteristic of these teams is that they are formed from individuals from the various areas relevant to product development, therefore holding complementary capabilities. Ultimately, the idea is to develop the product from a multifaceted view of customers’ needs. Generally, marketing, design, engineering, manufacturing, logistics, sales, and even partners, suppliers, and customers take part in the process. Second, organization, management, and performance appraisal is generally by project rather than function.

Finally, CE collects all relevant information/knowledge for new product development (NPD) from manufacturability to customer service. That represents an opportunity and a challenge: An opportunity because it is desirable to combine different views of product development to achieve maximum value perceived by customers. In other words, each function might understand well a nuance that is not well perceived by another. It is a challenge because traditionally functional areas focus on different, sometimes conflicting, aspects of a new product; for example, while engineers may be concerned with functionality, designers may be concerned with aesthetics, and finance concerned with the bottom line. Second, technical capabilities and experience naturally diverge among individuals. Team members have received different formal education, and they have experienced NPD from different perspectives. Therefore, communication tends to be a challenge.

Benefits And Drawbacks

Concurrent engineering is generally associated with reducing time-to-market, optimizing overall NPD expenditures, and delivering better target products or services. Concurrent engineering helps organizations reduce time-to-market because development tasks are performed in parallel as opposed to time sequenced, and because transitions between phases of the project are generally smooth and fast; finally, because there are fewer errors and less reworking, when problems are found, they are generally found much sooner.

CE helps to deliver better target products or services because it makes it easier to match tight project timelines and target costs. More importantly, because it takes into consideration various perspectives among functions involved in product development throughout the entire process, a much sharper picture of what customers want is developed and delivered as a product or service.

In terms of shortcomings, CE is not well-suited for extremely large and complex projects with relatively predictable results such as building a bridge. Also, behind concurrent engineering there is an entirely new way of thinking about product development that needs to be in accordance with the organization’s culture. CE is better suited to enterprises where there is excellent communication, openness, and a structure organized by project as opposed to hierarchical by functions. Finally, perhaps more than other approaches to product development, concurrent engineering demands excellent project management skills, techniques, and procedures.


  1. Chris J. Backhouse and Naomi J. Brookes, Concurrent Engineering: What’s Working Where? (John Wiley & Sons, 1997);
  2. Balamuralikrishna, R. Athinarayanan, and X. Song, “The Relevance of Concurrent Engineering in Industrial Technology Programs,” Journal of Industrial Technology (v.16/3, 2000);
  3. Handfield and C. McDermott, “Concurrent Development and Strategic Outsourcing: Do the Rules Change in Breakthrough Innovation?” The Journal of High Technology Management Research (v.11/1, 2000);
  4. Hauptman and K. K. Hirji, “Managing Integration and Coordination in Cross-Functional Teams: An International Study of Concurrent Engineering Product Development,” R&D Management (v.29/2, 1999);
  5. Nonaka and H. Takeuchi, “The New New Product Development Game,” Harvard Business Review (January–February, 1986);
  6. G. Smith, “Concurrent Engineering Teams,” in Field Guide to Project Management, D. I. Cleland, ed. (John Wiley & Sons, 1998);
  7. Umemoto, A. Ando, and M. Machado, “From Sashimi to Zen-In: The Evolution of Concurrent Engineering at Fuji-Xerox,” Journal of Knowledge Management (v.8/4, 2004).

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