Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Identifying The Manufacturing And Design Bodies Of Knowledge

I attended a PR seminar last night that got me thinking about design details that drive a PR message.  A lot of the panel's comments addressed the expertise that cross-functional teams bring to product design.  They also covered how product features drive user engagement, which will ultimately get the product's story told.  Cross-functional teams have been all the rage for decades but the manufacturing knowledge that drives product design has become a lost art in the US ever since American executives started outsourcing production to developing countries.  Practitioners need to know where knowledge of manufacturing and design can be found.

I asked the panel if a body of knowledge exists that product designers can use.  One expert remarked that innovation has outpaced documentation, and many product development details can escape notice.  That tells me there's a gap in knowledge management where some automated solution for documenting product and process changes can fill an enterprise need.  Another panelist mentioned the free courseware at edX and free design templates at the MIT Media Lab.  Those are great sources for people adding skills to their repertoire.

Professional societies have organized larger bodies of knowledge (BoKs) that pertain specifically to manufacturing and design.  APICS has a BoK for operations management.  The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has a BoK for manufacturing technology, and another BoK for lean certification.  The Usability Body of Knowledge should be very useful to any produce designer working the human-computer interface (HCI) for wearables.  The IEEE software engineering BoK, ASQ quality management BoK, and ASQ reliability engineer BoK are within the reach of anyone willing to study them.  All of those things matter in scaling up hi-tech products.

The secrets to success in product development aren't secrets at all.  They're buried under reams of academic concepts that practitioners have spent decades validating.  Practitioners who master the above BoKs should populate the cross-functional teams that design products.  The crucial factor today in product success is iterating product development in response to CustDev on a very compressed timeline.  One panelist remarked that the old way of developing product features in advance of seeking customer feedback now takes too long to get a product to market.  Enterprises doing CustDev can make that happen faster.

Most of the people I've seen attending the startup talks and meetups in San Francisco aren't very impressive.  They're either too dense to benefit from the panelists' expert wisdom or too impatient to slog it out through the long road of development.  There aren't many shortcuts in product development, and only experts can find the ones that exist.  Experts do that once they've mastered BoKs and can see intuitively how systems behave.  Come to think of it, these BoKs are the kind of multidisciplinary education that artisan designers in the maker movement need.  The San Franciscans who show up at meetups should spend less time grabbing food from their hosts and more time applying BoKs to real projects.