Thomke and Fujimoto (2000) The Effect of “Front-Loading” Problem-Solving on Product Development Performance, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 17, pp.128-142

Thomke and Fujimoto study the effect of front-loading problem-solving on product development performance. Product development in this article is described as bundle of interdependent problem-solving cycles. Problem-solving is described as a four-step process: 1) design (identify goal and problem) 2) build model, 3) run experiments, and 4) analyze and evaluate. From an information point-of view, to solve a problem, problem- and solution-related information must be created, made available, and recognized by the problem-solver.

Front-loading problem solving is defined as follows: a strategy that seeks to improve development performance by shifting the identification and solving of [design] problems to earlier phases of a product development process. The authors look at different front-loading strategies, in particular, project-to-project knowledge transfer and rapid problem-solving by using computer models and simulations. They state that front-loading has indeed shifted problem-identification and problem-solving to earlier stages of product development. Project-to-project knowledge transfer is often neglected in firms resulting into discovering same problems over and over again.

One approach presented in the literature is shortly discussed at the end of the paper. That is, the how does the type of contract effect the supplier’s willingness to be involved in design? Under traditional contracting, suppliers could charge any design changes due to problems discovered in the late tool production phase to customer. Not surprisingly, the same suppliers had little incentive to collaborate with their customer or invest in technologies or methods that would result in early problem-solving.