The “Solar Mobile” Project
Looking back, the “solar mobile” (mobiles that works using light, like solar calculators) project has never been launched. Documents relating to technical aspects of the product were generated during 1990’s - including a 200-page proposal. This proposal was circulated to the technical experts and not the sales or marketing people who would be responsible for the return of investment that the new product would generate. In early 2000, no one on the development team was able to produce a copy of this document. However, only the “design description document” produced at the end of the study phase was circulated among team members directly concerned with that document.
The project was intended to be a collaborative venture between two companies – Wireless Communications Ltd and Mobile Computing Ltd, based on potential synergies generated by combining two of their existing offerings. The firms were supposed to become part of the same owning group during the 1980s buyout. But this initiative didn’t materialize. They had fundamentally, products with dissimilar characteristics though there were some similarities in technology being used.
There was significant excitement caused by potential for the new product - it provided a much-needed replacement of batteries that conventional mobiles use. The latter require frequent re-charging or even replacement, if mishandled. It would be also be possible for conventional mobiles using batteries to be upgraded to this new version by fixing a special accessory to them. According to the market research carried out, the advent of the solar mobile would open the market to both public/private sector clients and individual users to a much wider range.
At the end of 1995, there was a meeting of the project participants from both sites on neutral territory. They considered what could go wrong with the project. A total of 152 potential problems were identified that could lead to project failure. These included: discrepancies/disagreements with regards to design specifications and design requirements, departure of key personnel, as well as failures in the technical elements of the process. Also, human factors (ergonomics), that is, the interaction of the human being with the device (the mobile) and its prospect consequences were insufficiently considered when designing the mobile.
At the board of directors' monthly meeting in February 1998, the project manager, Mr. Thomas Mudcat, reported that work had started in earnest. He noted that there were fundamental conflicts and differences in the approaches of the two firms (Wireless Communications Ltd and Mobile Computing Ltd) involved in the project. According to past records, Wireless Communications Ltd had proposed some trade-offs to be made between the problem solutions but their proposals were rejected by Mobile Computing Ltd. It is regrettable that these conflicts couldn’t be resolved. Subsequently, this interesting and challenging project is still lying in office drawer somewhere.
Answer the following problems
(a) What are the human factors (ergonomics) which could have been considered when manufacturing the mobile?
(b) Consistent with the case study, the “design description document” produced at the end of the study phase was circulated among team members directly concerned with that document. Give a discussion of the typical contents of this document.
(c) What do you understand by the term concurrent engineering? Describe how concurrent engineering could have been employed to make the project feasible.
(d) What do you understand by the expression “trade-off”?
(e) Describe the relationship between trade-off and risk-analysis.