Productivity Linkages in Computer-Aided Design
Douglas H. Harris
This chapter examines productivity linkages and influences within the domain of computer-aided design (CAD). Consistent with its use in the design community and by other researchers, CAD encompasses the entire process of creating, modifying, and verifying designs with computer-based tools. It also encompasses the three principal elements of the computer-based design workplace: designers, design tools, and design tasks. The central question addressed in this chapter is, when CAD technology increases the productivity of individual designers, under what conditions will those increases lead to increases in the productivity of the design team and, in turn, the design organization?
Many of the issues discussed in earlier chapters are relevant to this type of information work—particularly the inhibitors and facilitators of linkages discussed in Chapter 3 and the coordination and communications concepts discussed in Chapter 9. I examine these and other issues here as they relate to productivity linkages among designers, design teams, and engineering organizations. I also assess influences that are likely to operate through these linkages to affect CAD productivity at different levels of analysis. Finally, I identify the types of research needed to understand these linkages and influences better and to define their role in the productivity of organizations.
The observations made in this chapter are based in part on the findings of other researchers, and in part on the results of a study a colleague and I made of the effectiveness of CAD within the engineering design organizations of a large aerospace company (see Harris and Casey,
1987). Although our study did not address linkage issues directly, the data we obtained and the experience we gained in collecting them provide a rich source of information for examining linkage issues.
In exploring the CAD domain, it is important to recognize that CAD is but one part of a larger evolving industrial process. Companies throughout the world have been attempting to achieve productivity gains by introducing computer-based tools in their engineering and manufacturing organizations. Companies in the United States, in particular, have been investing in CAD as a means of meeting the challenge of foreign competitors. Increased productivity is expected to come from automating routine tasks, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of complex calculations and tests, replacing physical prototypes with electronic prototypes, and facilitating the sharing of design data and the products of design tasks. Despite these expectations, however, previous studies conducted in several countries suggest that, thus far, the productivity potential of CAD has seldom been realized (Beatty and Gordon, 1988; Liker and Fleischer, 1989; Majchrzak et al., 1987).
Another aspect of the evolving industrial process is the important interface between CAD and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). Computer aiding for engineering design has evolved from the development of relatively simple computer-based tools for drafting into sophisticated computer-based systems intended to streamline the entire design process. Computer aiding for manufacturing has evolved from numerically controlled machines into entire computer-based production facilities. In reviewing this evolution, many industry leaders have concluded that significant productivity gains overall cannot be realized until the two become a totally integrated CAD/CAM process. For example, a special committee of the National Research Council (1984) studied companies that were utilizing both CAD and CAM and strongly recommended pursuing the productivity gains that it believed could be realized through better integration of the two. Thus, although the focus here is on CAD, productivity linkages extend as well to the industrial enterprise of which CAD is only a part.
THE CAD DOMAIN
As noted above, Harris and Casey's (1987) study of the engineering design activities of a major aerospace company provides the principal data for this examination of productivity linkages in CAD. At the time of the study, the aerospace company had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on CAD hardware, software, facilities, and training. In addition, the company's design engineers had accumulated several years of CAD experience. The main purposes of the study were to document the
lessons learned in the implementation and utilization of CAD, define a benchmark of organizational effectiveness in the evolution of CAD, and identify avenues for increasing the effectiveness of CAD in the future.
The study was conducted by first analyzing the computer-based tools and the tasks for which they were being used, then observing and interviewing users of the tools, and finally, surveying the users of the tools on factors influencing CAD effectiveness. The study focused on the 250 designers who had been the most frequent users of CAD tools during the previous year (out of a design engineering population of about 1,500 in the organization studied). These designers were identified from logs maintained by the system for the previous year.
The CAD domain was defined by identifying the specific design tasks that were being performed and then categorizing the tasks into a set of principal activities. The 200 design tasks thus identified could be categorized relatively easily into four principal CAD activities. This four-activity definition of the CAD domain was consistent with the findings of other investigators (e.g., Liker et al., 1990; Majchrzak et al., 1987). These four activities are summarized in the four sections that follow.
Creation or Modification of Two-Dimensional Drawings
Creation or modification of two-dimensional drawings includes all tasks required for the preparation of two-dimensional drawings of various types, such as plan views and projections. These tasks are directly analogous to the tasks that, prior to the development of computer-based tools, were completed at drawing boards. Computer-based tools available in CAD automate many of the labor-intensive details of this process, such as providing lines of selected widths, creating and positioning text, providing dimensions, filling and shading, and manipulating and correcting drawing elements. Computer aiding of this activity does not really extend the capability of the designer, rather it automates drafting functions in an attempt to make them more efficient and to make their products more consistent.
Creation or Modification of Three-Dimensional Models
Creation or modification of three-dimensional models encompasses the development of three-dimensional formulations of designs and their manipulation on computer displays. This activity is analogous to the tasks that, prior to CAD, required the construction and direct manipulation of physical models. With CAD, many of the manipulations that were previously performed physically, such as checking the fit of parts and examining the movement of working parts, are now performed elec-
tronically. Models can be constructed with varying degrees of sophistication, from simple wire-frame representations to realistic, shaded-solid representations in full color.
Verification of Drawings and Models
Verification of drawings and models includes the tasks required to verify that design parameters meet design specifications. Design work is completed under sets of specifications that provide design criteria and constraints for the end product. Consequently, a significant amount of design activity is devoted to ensuring that design concepts and intermediate products (drawings and models) meet those specifications. Because these tasks might require the completion of some basic calculations, CAD provides appropriate algorithms and calculation capabilities.
Acquisition of Data Needed for Design Tasks
Acquisition of design data encompasses tasks involved in obtaining the information needed for the solution of design problems, including the retrieval of information from CAD data bases. Given that engineering is the application of knowledge to the solution of technical problems, a part of the design effort necessarily involves the acquisition of information that is appropriate to the problem. Prior to CAD, engineers relied heavily on information contained in printed materials, such as handbooks, and on personal interaction with supervisors, specialists, and colleagues to obtain needed information. With CAD, these traditional sources of information are augmented by data bases supported by computer-based systems. Acquisition of data also encompasses data transfer from one workstation to another or to other functions, such as CAM.
INFLUENCES ON CAD PRODUCTIVITY
Typically, CAD is introduced into an engineering design organization with the expectation that it will increase the productivity of the organization by increasing the productivity of individual designers. Productivity gains are anticipated from the capabilities of CAD to automate routine functions, enhance the accuracy and efficiency of design tasks, promote the exchange of information, and facilitate the performance of sophisticated design tasks. Thus, the principal facilitator of productivity is assumed to be the technology of the CAD system itself. However, it is the interaction of the characteristics of the CAD
Influences on CAD Productivity
• Specialization of Design Work
• Isolation of Design Work
• Time-Sharing of Workstations
• Transitional Technology
• Organizational Complexity
• System Design and Support
• Exchange and Control of Information
• Mode of Supervision
system with the specific characteristics of the personnel and the work domain that appears to facilitate or inhibit potential productivity gains.
The principal output of a design effort is a set of design products (drawings, models, descriptions, and lists) that meet agreed design objectives, guidelines, and constraints. The principal resource consumed in producing this output is labor—designer, support, administrative, and so on. Thus, regardless of the level of analysis (individual, group, department, organization), the core definition of productivity within this domain is the ratio of design output to labor input.
Within the framework defined by the four types of design activities described above, my colleagues and I examined system and domain characteristics for factors that might facilitate or inhibit the productivity of the design organization. Our interviews and surveys of designers produced 3,929 specific comments on various aspects of CAD effectiveness. Analyses of these comments produced 145 issues that we then categorized into 43 principal factors associated with CAD performance. From these results, we identified characteristics of the CAD domain that might influence, positively or negatively, the design productivity of individuals, teams, and organizations. These potential influences on productivity linkages in the CAD domain are presented in Figure 10-1 and discussed below.
Specialization of Design Work
The work of individual designers in the aerospace company appeared to be relatively specialized in terms of the four principal design activities described earlier. Many designers concentrated on just one or two
of the four activities. For example, more than 60 percent of those who reported doing any three-dimensional modeling spent at least 80 percent of their time on that activity. Nearly 40 percent of those who reported doing any design verification spent at least 80 percent of their time on that activity. The levels of specialization for two-dimensional drawing tasks and for data acquisition tasks were also within these ranges. Design work was specialized, therefore, not only by what was being designed (e.g., landing gears, cockpit instrument panels) but also by the types of design activities performed. Specialization of design work can facilitate the productivity of the individual designer because it encourages the more rapid development and application of design skills. However, it might inhibit the realization of productivity gains at the team and organizational levels because of the greater administrative burdens required for coordination and communication. These burdens were discussed in Chapter 9 relative to the software development domain.
Similar findings were reported by Liker et al. (1991) in their survey of firms using CAD. They found that a high degree of specialization was characteristic of the design organizations they studied, and that a high degree of fragmentation and segmentation existed in the application of knowledge and skills to the design process. They found that, commonly, the design process was divided into many little pieces and that each piece was delegated to a separate designer.
Isolation of Design Work
A relatively common complaint voiced by CAD designers in the aerospace company was that their work was too isolated from their supervisors and their senior associates and that it suffered as a consequence. The relatively frequent, informal, personalized guidance and feedback that designers had become accustomed to while working at drafting boards were reported to be lacking with CAD. Perhaps the utilization of a CAD workstation is not conducive to the provision of the kind of guidance, communication, and feedback designers consider important. The productivity of the individual designer, as well as that of the design team and organization, may be inhibited because of these difficulties. Use of CAD may require special efforts and methods to overcome the potential handicap of designer isolation.
Time-Sharing of Workstations
Within the aerospace company many more designers used CAD workstations than there were workstations for them to use—about 1,500
designers to 300 workstations. This finding is consistent with observations reported by others to the effect that, particularly in larger organizations, resources tend to lag the need for them. For example, Liker and Fleischer (1989) reported that CAD is typically phased in gradually over an extended period of time because of the extensive investment required in workstations and the cost of transferring pre-CAD designs to CAD.
Although nearly all of the 1,500 designers in the aerospace company had received the basic training required to qualify them to use CAD, about half of them seldom if ever used a CAD workstation. Excluding the infrequent users, on the basis that their need was not great, approximately 750 designers had to time-share among the 300 workstations. Among those 750, the distribution of time spent on CAD was highly skewed. The 250 most frequent users reported averaging 27.8 hours a week at a CAD workstation, which left an average of 10.1 hours per designer to be distributed to the remaining 500 during a typical work week (5,050 workstation-hours available divided by 500 designers equals 10.1 hours per designer).
The need to time-share workstations is a potential inhibitor of productivity gains. The 250 designers surveyed reported that they spent an average of 3.5 hours a week waiting for a workstation to become available. Because of the serial nature of many design tasks, waiting time is likely to be only marginally productive. Other possible inefficiencies associated with time-sharing include those associated with the additional effort required by the individual, team, and organization for scheduling workstations, and the nonproductive time and effort involved in moving and transporting working materials between two locations (e.g., non-CAD computer terminal on the desk, CAD facility down the hall).
As with other computer-based systems, the technology that supports CAD has been evolving rapidly and is expected to continue to do so for many years to come. In turn, a company's efforts to maintain or improve its competitive position force older technology to give way to the new. As a consequence, the technology employed in CAD is typically in a state of transition. One assumption, of course, in introducing new technology is that it will result in further productivity gains for the enterprise.
The introduction of new hardware and software is also a potential source of productivity loss due to the turbulence it generates in the CAD working environment. In the aerospace company, the pool of 300
workstations was not uniform in terms of the technology offered. Workstations consisted of newer and older models from the same vendor, as well as newer models under evaluation from other vendors—all differing in important ways in the features and the interfaces they provided for the designers.
As discussed in Chapter 2, changes in hardware and software can be particularly devastating to productivity in activities in which skills are not easily acquired. Computer-aided design is one of those activities. In the aerospace company designers estimated that, on average, 9.4 months of combined formal training and on-the-job practice were needed to reach an adequate level of proficiency on CAD. Additional time was required to reach an adequate level of proficiency on tasks that they previously were unable to perform manually, such as three-dimensional modeling. These estimates are higher than those obtained by other investigators, probably because of differences in the nature of the design tasks. For example, Beatty (1986) obtained an estimated average of 4.7 months for designers at a sample of 25 industrial sites in Canada. Even when the lower estimate is used, it must be concluded that a relatively lengthy period of specialized training and experience is needed to reach an adequate level of proficiency in CAD skills.
A system change with great negative impact on the designers surveyed was the introduction of new or updated applications software. Several months before the study, a major updating of the CAD software had been introduced. The change itself created a substantial burden associated with unlearning parts of the old system and learning the new versions. These difficulties were intensified, however, by problems in the software itself. Inevitably, it seems, newly released or updated software does not function exactly as it is supposed to, even when subjected to extensive pretesting. These software development difficulties can combine with long proficiency-development lead times and transfer-of-training problems to have a negative impact on designer productivity.
The technology of CAD imposes requirements that can lead to increased complexity in the organization of the design effort. In contrast to the relatively simple line management that previously sufficed for engineering design organizations, CAD requires the involvement of a variety of specialists in addition to designers—computer specialists, computer maintenance personnel, software engineers, programmers, system support consultants, training specialists, liaison personnel, special study committees, and others. As a consequence, almost any struc-
tural solution to the organization of CAD will be more complex than that required for the organization of pre-CAD engineering. The number and complexity of linkages among individuals and groups are likely to be greater simply because of the large number of interdependencies. The aerospace designers interviewed and surveyed reported many continuing difficulties of an intraorganizational nature that affected their design effectiveness, which suggests that these issues are not easily resolved. These findings are consistent with those reported in Chapter 4, which examines organizational complexity and inertia relative to the introduction of automation into office work.
System Design and Support
The CAD workstation provides the designer with direct access to a variety of computer-based tools with which to perform design tasks. A tool consists of some combination of hardware and software that performs a function for the designer. The principal components are hardware display and control devices, through which the designer interacts with the computer system, and software application programs that perform various functions at the command of the designer. The central role of these tools in CAD suggests that individual productivity can be facilitated or inhibited by the degree of compatibility between the designer and the tools provided. In the aerospace company, there were wide-ranging differences among the principal CAD tools in terms of their perceived effectiveness. Some were rated highly (positioning objects in three dimensions and checking the fit of parts), but others were given very low ratings (dimensioning, performing calculations, and filling and shading).
The verbatim comments that accompanied the overall ratings of the CAD tools indicate that the ratings were based primarily on the ease and consistency with which the tools could be used. The highly rated tools were characterized by comments such as ''smooth and reliable response to control actions," "consistent presentation of geometry," and "ease and clarity in locating contacting surfaces and analyzing clearances between surfaces." Tools that received the lowest overall ratings were characterized by comments such as "dimensioning procedures are cumbersome and confusing," "calculation functions are not sufficiently complete or versatile," and "manipulations are difficult, inflexible, and slow."
Closely linked to the usability of the system is the effectiveness of the support provided to the designer. The support can be in the form of features incorporated into the system itself or can be provided external to the system. Examples include design features that facilitate the learn-
ing and use of the system, timely and appropriate feedback from the system regarding the results of actions and errors made, opportunities for expert consultation on system problems, appropriateness and quality of training on the system, and adequacy of on-line and off-line documentation. Design productivity can be facilitated or inhibited by the effectiveness with which these types of support are provided to designers.
Exchange and Control of Information
Allen (1977) reported, prior to the widespread introduction of CAD, that informal, interpersonal communication was the primary way in which information flowed in engineering organizations. He estimated that fully half of the information that engineers used came from personal contacts, rather than from any written source. Moreover, he found that communication declined exponentially with distance, so that engineers were half as likely to talk to a colleague two offices away as they were to talk to one next door. Harris and Casey's (1987) findings indicated that the need, or at least the desire, for informal technical communications continues in the CAD domain.
Kraut and Streeter (1990) also concluded recently that, within the context of software engineering, the need for informal, designer-initiated information acquisition continues despite the use of computer-based workstations. They recommended the construction of discretionary data bases and computer-based systems that support this type of information acquisition. Clearly, what they recommend is something that CAD is capable of providing.
Several of the more senior aerospace designers interviewed contended that CAD actually had greater productivity potential as a communication tool than as a drawing tool. If CAD provided appropriate data bases and communications media, they argued, the primary sources of information could be immediately available to the designer. Easy, rapid access to needed information and the enhanced capability of interacting with colleagues on design issues could be very positive characteristics of CAD.
A potentially negative influence on productivity involves the rules imposed to control the flow and handling of CAD information. For example, modification procedures are intended to protect products of design efforts, such as drawings and specifications, from unauthorized or inadvertent changes during their use and transmission. Although necessary, these rules add a burden to the process of gaining access to and proceeding with work in progress. The nature of these rules is not likely to facilitate productivity; however, the manner in which rule making is
conducted and implemented might minimize the negative impact on productivity.
Mode of Supervision
Several of the characteristics of the CAD domain discussed above have implications for supervision of the design effort. The modes of supervision required for a design effort characterized by high degrees of designer specialization and isolation, time-sharing of workstations, high levels of technology that is transitional in nature, and organizational complexity are likely to differ from the traditional pre-CAD modes. Realizing the potential gains in productivity from CAD might depend, in part, on the extent to which appropriate modes of supervision are developed and employed. Effective modes of planning, scheduling, and coordinating the design effort might facilitate CAD productivity, whereas ineffective modes will certainly inhibit the potential gains from CAD.
The central question in this chapter is, when CAD technology increases the productivity of individual designers, under what conditions will those increases lead to increased productivity of the design organization? The answer is derived from an examination of the productivity linkages that exist among the individuals, groups, and organizations in the design process and from an examination of the factors and processes in the CAD domain that facilitate or inhibit those linkages. This discussion is consistent with the theoretical framework for linkages and influences provided in Chapter 3.
The Designer-Team Linkage
The extent to which the productivity of a design team is increased as the consequence of the increased productivity of its members depends on influences in the CAD domain that facilitate or inhibit the coordination of individual design efforts and the exchange of information that supports those efforts. As shown in Figure 10-2, potential influences include isolation of the designer, degree of specialization among members of the design team, modes and skills of team supervision, and controls that are imposed on the flow of information. The important questions to be addressed about these influences are, how have the traditional modes of operating been changed by CAD? What impact are those changes likely to have on design productivity? What facilitates or inhibits the transformation of increases in individual productivity to
increases in team productivity? The answers provided below were derived from an examination of influences in the CAD domain that relate specifically to the designer-team linkage.
One important characteristic of CAD work, as noted above, is the relative isolation (or insulation) of designers from one another. In contrast to working at a drawing board in the company of other designers at surrounding drawing boards, working at a CAD workstation is likely to result in more physical and psychological separation from other designers. Contact with others is reduced by computer display monitors and other equipment that block interactions beyond the immediate workstation, by the need to attend carefully to the displays and controls of the workstation, and by the reduction of ambient illumination in order to enhance the contrast ratio of displayed information. Moreover, the workstation, if time-shared, might be in a location some distance from that of other designers in the immediate work group at the time information exchange is desired.
The isolation of design work has potential implications for the linkage between designer and team productivity to the extent that the linkage depends on information sharing. As mentioned earlier, studies of pre-CAD engineering organizations revealed that about half of the infor-
mation that designers used came from personal contacts that were close at hand. Informal, personal communications were found to be the primary way that information flowed in pre-CAD organizations. Because the studies were completed prior to the widespread introduction of CAD, the results apply principally to designers who were less insulated from each other.
What might happen to information sharing as designers become more insulated from one another in the CAD working environment? One possibility is that designers will necessarily switch to other modes of communication, such as electronic mail (email). If so, what is likely to be the impact on communication and the exchange of information? Greater formalization of communication might reduce the amount of information exchanged and slow the speed of needed communication, as discussed in Chapter 2. The consequence could be that increased levels of individual productivity might not be fully realized in the output of the design team.
On the other hand, CAD could provide the technology for enhancing designer-team communication. Kraut and Streeter (1990), recognizing that the introduction of computer aiding in other settings has led to more formal, impersonal communication, argued that the promotion of informal, personal communication can actually be enhanced through the construction and maintenance of discretionary data bases and computer-based communication systems. They envision systems that help identify relevant experts by providing lists of individuals, based on the relevancy of past work to the inquiry; by broadcasting requests for information to other designers by means of email; and by providing project alerts, such as changes or pointers to information that might be needed.
Kraut and Streeter have argued convincingly that informal communication, as mediated by personal contact, cannot be the major mechanism for coordination and information exchange because the transaction costs are too high. Moreover, physical proximity really does not meet today's information needs because the productivity of the designer and the design team depends on information from other groups and organizations. Communications must, necessarily, be spread across the organization and even across different sites. They suggest that the solution involves replacing physical proximity with electronic proximity. Electronic communication can be made to emulate the more informal, personal communication that designers desire. With this approach, the isolation of the individual designer by CAD need not be a productivity problem, and the technology provided by CAD might be the means to provide productivity enhancements through better communication.
Specialization in the Design Team
A relatively high degree of specialization can also mark the activities of individual CAD designers. Recall that significant specialization was found in the design problems addressed in the aerospace company. This was a function of the sophistication of the design effort and the degree of experience required to become proficient in addressing any specific type of design problem. A relatively high degree of designer specialization was also found in the type of CAD activity—three-dimensional modeling, two-dimensional drawing, verification of models and drawings, and acquisition of data. A possible explanation is that these activities differ in the skill and experience they require, and that skill differences among designers tend to drive task assignments. For example, the aerospace designers interviewed estimated that it took, on average, about 6 months to become proficient in verifying models and designs, but almost twice as long to become proficient in three-dimensional modeling.
The high degree of individual specialization in CAD activities places a premium on coordination of the design effort. The scope and product of an individual effort must fit explicitly into the scope and product of other designers and of the entire design team. Moreover, the completion time of the individual effort must match the time at which the product is needed by another designer or the design team. Team productivity, then, depends on fitting specialized individual efforts into the overall team effort through work planning and coordination. However, planning and coordination add to the costs of the design effort, which has the effect of reducing team productivity. Thus, an important challenge in capitalizing on increases in individual productivity is to arrive at an appropriate trade-off between gains realized from specialization and the costs that specialization imposes in the form of planning and coordination. Perhaps the needed planning and coordination could be made more efficient, and less costly, by applying CAD technology to those functions.
In their study of how CAD technology had been integrated into engineering organizations, Liker et al. (1991) found that none of the companies in their sample had made any major changes in their organizational design when they implemented CAD. The typical approach was to replace old tools with new tools, leaving the old organizational structure and the old ways of managing the design process in place. Thus, the design group continued to be supervised in the same manner after
the introduction of CAD as before the introduction of CAD. As suggested above, continuing the traditional mode of supervision can lead to problems and can inhibit the realization of potential productivity gains at the team level.
The team supervisor could be an important mediating factor in translating individual productivity into team and organizational productivity, since planning and coordination are principal supervisory functions. The traditional supervisor, however, is likely to be at a distinct disadvantage in performing these functions in a CAD environment. Resolution of many of the issues and problems that face individual designers in completing tasks and meeting schedules requires a thorough knowledge of the computer-based design tools. Unfortunately, the supervisor may have great difficulty in acquiring this knowledge and keeping up to date on tool technology while meeting various nontechnical supervisory responsibilities.
The problem is intensified by the phenomenon of transitional technology, discussed earlier, which is characteristic of CAD. In the aerospace study, designers reported considerable frustration with the quality of guidance obtainable from their supervisors. More worrisome, however, is their expressed lack of confidence that their supervisors knew enough about the technology to plan and coordinate the design effort effectively. New modes of supervision may be required before the potential productivity gains of CAD can be realized at the team and organizational levels. What has been learned about the impact of empowerment, job enrichment, and implementation of decision rules on group performance might be applicable to team supervision in this domain. An alternative to traditional modes of supervision, for example, might be self-managing teams. Goodman and associates (Goodman et al., 1988) have presented the concept and underlying theory of self-managing teams and have identified factors that are likely to facilitate productivity. Self-managing teams appear to meet some of the needs imposed on engineering teams by CAD.
Controls on Information Flow and Access
A special designer-team linkage issue in CAD is that of controlling access to and modification of information, including the drawings and specifications that are products of the design effort. A problem arises because of the need for various members of the design group to access drawings and other documentation that serve as their common products. Obviously, rules are needed to specify which designers are authorized to have access to work in progress and who can do what to it. The
problem is intensified somewhat by the degree of task specialization that exists in CAD.
The rules governing access to work in progress help define the designer-team linkages and are also likely to influence the individual-to-team translation of productivity. The rules necessitate the imposition of extra steps to be taken by individual designers in gaining access to their work and in documenting the results of their efforts. While the rules, in the long term, might contribute to team productivity by avoiding the introduction of costly errors by individual designers, in the short term they place an additional burden on the designer that inhibits team productivity. Opportunities might exist here to enhance coordination of the efforts of individual designers through the exploration of more collaborative approaches to the control of information.
The Team-Organization Linkage
As a consequence of the technology required by CAD and the need for integrating design efforts into the overall industrial process, the design team works within the context of organizational complexity. Within the engineering hierarchy, the team is subject to specific organizational structures, policies, and procedures that define and govern its operations. These rules might either facilitate or inhibit the realization of productivity gains made at the team and individual levels.
The design team must also interact with groups and organizations outside the engineering hierarchy—organizations that provide computer maintenance support, software applications consulting, training, workstation allocation and scheduling, and other services. Productivity gains realized at the organizational level thus depend also on the factors that exist in the CAD domain to facilitate or inhibit these various interactions. Potential influences on the team-organization productivity linkage are illustrated in Figure 10-3 and addressed below.
The Burden of Design Support
Technology and the associated organizational complexity it spawns can inhibit CAD productivity gains by adding to the support burden of the overall design effort. That is, design teams might increase their productivity, but the gain is balanced by an increased burden of support costs. As discussed earlier, the introduction of CAD technology is accompanied by the need for various supporting functions and services, such as programming, maintenance, training, consultation, scheduling, and so on. When assessing the productivity of the design organization, therefore, one must add the costs of the various supporting functions to
the costs of the design effort in order to arrive at the true costs of the designs produced.
The assumption of CAD is that the additional burden imposed by support functions is more than offset by the increased efficiency and effectiveness of the resulting design process. This can certainly be true. But to arrive at an accurate assessment of productivity, one must also add the administrative costs in designer and supervisor time of interacting with the various support organizations. On the positive side, successful efforts to increase the efficiencies and reduce the costs of the support functions, and to streamline the interactions of design teams with those that provide these functions, can be avenues to enhancing productivity at the organizational level. An important issue to be addressed here is the trade-off between centralized and decentralized administration of support functions.
The policies and procedures an organization employs during CAD implementation can sow the seeds for inhibiting the actual gains in productivity expected from CAD at the organizational level. The implementation of new CAD technology has traditionally been completed as a top-down process. That is, managers and management committees
develop plans for implementation, select the CAD technology, design the organizational structure, and determine and arrange for the support functions. This all takes place with little or no input from the designers who will be affected by these actions. In the companies studied by Liker and Fleischer (1989) and by Salzman (1989), there was virtually no involvement of designers in the selection or implementation of CAD, or even in decisions about hardware or software upgrades. They also found that the problem of the company's selecting inappropriate hardware and software was exacerbated by the provision of only minimal training on new systems; training was typically limited to short introductory courses.
The results of such approaches to technology implementation have been technology that does not match the requirements of users, high levels of turbulence within design organizations during technology implementation, and organizational climates that have not been conducive to productivity. One measure of the impact of this approach is the extent to which designers use the tools they have been provided. Liker et al. (1991) found that high-level features of CAD technology—those that held the greatest promise for increases in productivity—were consistently underutilized. Thus, design teams might be highly productive on tasks performed with low-level tools, but not on tasks for which the high-level tools were provided. The result would be an apparent productivity increase in design teams that is not reflected in the productivity of the organization.
As discussed above, the traditional top-down approaches to the acquisition and management of resources can ultimately inhibit the productivity linkages from design teams to design organizations. A related influence might be less than optimal decisions by management in the allocation of resources. An example is a decision that leads to the need to time-share workstations at a relatively high ratio of designers to workstations. The many negative consequences of time-sharing on individual and team productivity were discussed above. Time-sharing is likely to add to costs at the organizational level because of the administrative burden associated with allocating workstations to designers. For example, a system that efficiently establishes priorities and assigns workstations according to the individual needs of 750 designers, and the project needs of a major engineering organization, requires a significant effort. Minimal efforts that result in relatively inefficient allocations will further inhibit any increases in team productivity that might be realizable at the organizational level.
The management of resources during change so as to minimize turbulence in the organization should facilitate the realization of productivity gains. As discussed earlier, design organizations face frequent changes in hardware and software. In the aerospace company studied, several different models of workstations were in place in the engineering organization as older versions were being replaced by newer versions and other models were being introduced on an experimental basis. The change process was complicated by the high demand for the limited number of available workstations, which led to many of the older models being kept in place longer than the transition would usually require. In addition, issues of centralized versus distributed data processing were being addressed by introducing alternative concepts into the workplace on an experimental basis, which significantly modified previous procedures for gaining access to and controlling information in data files. Without effective planning and coordination, such changes could cause sufficient turbulence in an organization to inhibit the realization of productivity gains made by design teams.
System Quality and Reliability
The findings discussed here are consistent with those of other investigators regarding the importance to the design organization of maintaining the quality and reliability of the technical system. Gutek et al. (1984) studied the implementation of office automation in 55 work groups and concluded that technical problems with the system were key impediments to its use in office tasks. Similarly, Liker et al. (1990) reported that designers in companies in the United States and Japan considered system factors to be highly important to their productivity. Factors in system quality and reliability include maintenance and repair, consistency of operations, safeguards against data contamination, recovery from failure, system response time, and system reliability.
System quality and reliability will have direct impacts on the productivity of individual designers and design teams. These system factors, however, are also indicators to designers of the focus of attention and the problem-solving capabilities of management. Deterioration or continual neglect of these system factors at the organizational level could lead to lower levels of motivation due to reduced confidence in management. One aspect of lowered motivation by individuals and teams could be their reduced efforts to compensate for chronic system problems, which would intensify the amount of effort needed to resolve the problems at higher levels in the organization. Thus, although team productivity might actually increase, the costs of additional problem-solving efforts
could eliminate any potential gains in productivity at the organizational level.
CONCLUSION AND RESEARCH RECOMMENDATIONS
When CAD technology leads to increases in the productivity of individual designers, a number of influences in the CAD domain determine whether those individual gains will also be realized in the productivity of the design team and, in turn, the design organization. The influences might facilitate or inhibit the translation of individual productivity to higher levels of analysis. Although some studies have examined the integration of CAD into engineering organizations and the impact of certain variables on CAD performance, relatively little is known about the conditions under which increases in individual productivity lead to increases in organizational productivity.
At the outset of this chapter, I noted the potentially important interface between CAD and CAM. A conclusion of a study by the National Research Council (1984) was that the full productivity potential of CAD would not be realized in an enterprise until CAD was successfully integrated with CAM. Although the discussion in this chapter was confined to productivity linkages that operate within the CAD domain, the issues of productivity linkages and influences are likely to be no less important to the successful integration of CAD with CAM.
This examination of productivity in the CAD domain resulted in the identification of several hypotheses about how the linkages among individual, team, and organizational productivity might be facilitated or inhibited. The research needed to test those hypotheses must necessarily differ from previous research conducted in this domain, which has consisted mainly of cross-sectional interview and survey approaches.
Longitudinal studies are required in which productivity measures are obtained and tracked over time at each level of analysis—individual, team, and organization. Linkages can then be defined and assessed on the basis of those measures. Concurrently, measures of potential influences on productivity linkages can be obtained and correlated with linkage measures. Because some influences cannot easily be manipulated for research purposes and must therefore be taken as found in specific settings, it will probably be necessary to collect data in several settings and make cross-comparisons to assess important facilitators and inhibitors of linkages. The following hypotheses should be tested using the longitudinal research approach:
The relative isolation of individual designers in CAD teams can reduce the strength of the linkage between individual and team pro-
ductivity. The development and use of techniques that promote informal, designer-initiated communication directly from the workstation to other team members, and to others in and beyond the immediate organization, can strengthen the linkage.
The costs of planning and coordinating design activities at the organizational level can offset individual productivity gains realized from extensive specialization. Developing and using better models and procedures for making the specialization-coordination trade-off can strengthen productivity linkages.
The strength of productivity linkages is diminished by the transitional nature of the CAD system technology. Minimizing turbulence during the phasing-in of new technology and the phasing-out of old technology can strengthen productivity linkages.
Traditional modes of team supervision are not appropriate to CAD. New approaches to team supervision, such as self-managing teams, can strengthen productivity linkages.
More efficient rules for controlling access to work materials and for documenting work results can strengthen productivity linkages. Collaborative approaches to rule making and to the implementation of rules can serve to strengthen the individual-team linkage.
Efforts to reduce the organizational complexity within which individual designers and design teams work, and thereby reduce the burden of design support, can strengthen productivity linkages. Models that provide an appropriate trade-off between centralized and decentralized design support can strengthen productivity linkages.
The policies and procedures employed during technology implementation can weaken productivity linkages. Approaches other than the traditional top-down management of implementation, such as providing for more user input during the process, can strengthen the linkages.
The management of resources can influence productivity linkages. Less-than-optimal allocations are likely to reduce the productivity of the organization by increasing administrative burdens. The development of better models and procedures to support resource management can strengthen the linkages.
Maintaining a high level of system quality and reliability will strengthen the linkages between individual and organizational productivity.
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