Redeveloping Product Development at Volvo

I came across this interesting article that provides a little insight into how Volvo developed one of its new trucks -- the Volvo FMX. According to Gunnar Eliasson (a market manager for Volvo Trucks), customer input and specific requirements are now influencing the design of Volvo's trucks in a much more direct fashion. As product lifecylces are much shorter due to increased competition, response to customer demands must be more immediate.

With the Volvo FMX, the development process included customers, drivers, sales staff, and marketing specialists and then prototypes were built and tested after input and "wish lists" were distilled. A very crucial point of the article is a quote from Jeffrey Liker (author of The Toyota Way) who noted that this new process is what separates Lean product development from traditional product development: "In Lean production, specialists work together freely across several departments and areas, all so as to be able to better meet customer demands. At the same time, this approach promotes constant learning about the production processes and understanding of how product development is conducted."

Do you know of any companies that include this type of input very early in the process? How has it affected lead times?

Most companies' major concern with this type of process is the dissemination of important "secrets" to competitors. The more various "outsiders" involved in the development process so thoroughly increases the potential for leaks. Eliasson, however, reveals that the priorities and outcomes have greatly changed: "The benefits of inviting customers into the product development process far outweigh the risk that information might spread to our competitors."


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