Research approach for individual team composition for the improvement of the application situation of methods in the area of design methodology




Concept Paper

Research approach for individual team composition

for the improvement of the application situation of

methods in the area of design methodology

Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Gust, M.Sc. Marie Garbe, M.Sc. Marco Kuhlmeier

University of Wuppertal, Engineering Design



A success factor for product development is the application of a design methodology. Numerous studies have shown the advantages, including shorter development times and reduced costs. However, other studies have shown that design methodology is often not (or only inadequately) applied. The reasons for this are diverse. One reason is that design methodology is considered very time-consuming, since the methods first have to be introduced and explained, and employees have to be qualified. This leads to a further argument for rejection, the assumption that the application is expensive. But the opposite is the case. Methodology, however, cannot be seen as a panacea, and some methods no longer correspond to the state of science. In addition, methods are often too rigid and difficult to adapt to operational needs. One factor for this is the number of available employees, which is often in conflict with the team sizes stipulated by scientific sources. To meet this discrepancy, this paper presents a research approach that deals with the individualization of team sizes. Various factors influencing team performance are described; these must be examined for their relevance. The paper describes a process under development, which is intended to provide an objective assessment of individual employees and an optimal team composition. In addition, the actuality of methods has to be critically examined.


1. Introduction

For decades designers have been able to profit from a huge range of models and methods in product development. In Germany for example, one of the best known models was developed by the Association of German Engineers (VDI). In the guideline VDI 2221, the process is divided into four phases: task plan, concept, design, realization (VDI 2221, 1993). These phases are again subdivided into seven steps. Other models have a similar structure, which allows an iterative approach. Within these models, the designer often gets a list of methods that can be used. This seems to provide the designer with excellent conditions to carry out structured and systematic product development, but this is not always the case. For this there are different reasons.

First of all, VDI 2221 was developed 30 years ago and last actualized in the 1990s (VDI 2221, 1993). The question arises, whether this guideline still meets current needs. Meanwhile, new models have been developed like MVM (Munich model approach), which loosens up the existing strict procedure by giving the designer the chance to go through the steps in a self-selected sequence (Lindemann, 2009). On the other hand, a good designer would in any case


have opted for a different sequence if this seemed necessary, even if the model used had not suggested that he do so from the start.

Another problem is that many designers do not use any systematic approach to develop products (Ehrlenspiel & Meerkamm, 2013). A preliminary study by the University of Wuppertal (full title “Leistungsmessung in der Konstruktion bei Unternehmen des Maschinenbaunetzwerks Bergisches Land”) confirms what can be read in various scientific sources: the clear divergence between the theory and practice of construction methodology. The study analyzed the development processes in various companies. All companies were given the same task and one week to solve it. The aim was to examine different methodological approaches. However, the study concluded that hardly any methodology was in fact used. And no model, even the best, can bring about any change if it is not used.

The arguments against the use of systematic approaches and methods are simple and at the same time marked by a lack of vision. The two arguments that should make their use most attractive are often used to make it unattractive – time and cost.

The application of methods is often considered too time-intensive (Conrad, 2010). In the short term this may be true, because the procedures must first be introduced and explained. However, as soon as they become routine for employees, development times can be significantly reduced (Graner, 2013). An important factor in shortening the development period is the reduction in the number of iterations required by a systematic approach, as many regressions and adjustments can be avoided (Lindemann, 2009). Time can also be saved by the parallel processing of several tasks by different employees or teams, which requires a coordinated exchange of intermediate results (Ponn & Lindemann, 2011). In this context, the term "simultaneous engineering" is often used (Naefe & Luderich, 2016). Virtual simulation is another way to shorten development time (Lindemann, 2009). So, in the long term, the use of design methods creates a time advantage. In addition, the systematic approach promises more efficient processes and a corresponding improvement in product quality.

The supposedly greater effort leads inevitably to the assumption that costs are also higher. However, a systematic approach can also lead to great cost savings. The later a defect is discovered, the more expensive it becomes. This relationship is described by the Rule of 10, as shown in Figure 1. Costs for a correction in the field can be in the high six-digit or even seven-digit range (Werdich, 2012). Methods such as the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, can help to detect those defects very early in the product development process.


3 Figure 1: Rule of 10 (Kammerloch, 2006, p. 9)

The impact on costs is highest in the earliest stages of product development, although the lowest costs are incurred there (cf. Figure 2). It is therefore important to work with great care and a systematic approach right from the start of a development project in order to actively avoid errors. This reduces the number of necessary changes and adjustments occurring later in the process (Engeln, 2006).

Figure 2: Possibility of cost control on the development process (Ehrlenspiel & Meerkamm, 2013, p. 668) (Engeln, 2006, p. 32)

The last problem to be addressed in this paper is the fact that many methods have been superseded and their application is difficult to adapt to the individual needs of companies. This topic will be discussed later in more detail.


2. State of the Art

2.1 Influences on method selection

When designers choose a method, they have to consider which methods will bring the best results within the limits of their given resources. Relevant resources are time, staff, money and qualification (Holzbaur, 2007). These restrictions significantly influence the results of the work. As shown in the introduction, time and money can be saved through efficient method application. Qualified personnel, however, are required and in sufficient numbers. If one or more of these resources is insufficient for a particular method, the method is not applied. To check whether the financial resources are sufficient, the designer calculates the costs based on the required time, qualification and number of personnel. The input for this calculation, especially the required time and number of personnel, is obtained from experience or scientific sources.

Individualization is hardly feasible in the case of lack of experience with the method. If the designer considers, for example, a method which, according to scientific sources, requires six participants and lasts about an hour-and-a-half, he calculates a total time effort of 9 person-hours. Maybe a small company cannot afford this. Or perhaps there are not so many employees in the corresponding department. The method will not then be selected, even if it promises good results.

But are five persons really necessary for a good brainstorming, or can just three achieve comparable results? In this paper, a concept for an alternative approach to the determination of team size will be presented. In addition, it will also be asked to what extent methods are outdated and need to be adapted.

2.2 Influences on team performance

Many factors influence team performance. In this paper the focus is on the influences caused by the team itself. These, in turn, can be subdivided into various aspects. The influences considered can be seen in Figure 3.

Influences which are independent of the person, such as the environment, the task, the available time, the scope for decision-making and the availability of information are excluded.



2.3 Influence of team size

Considering only the number of team members, it appears that a very small and a very large team size lead to a lower team performance than a medium-sized team (Lindemann, 2009). Figure 4 shows this relationship.

Figure 4: Team performance as a function of team size (Lindemann, 2009, p. 24)

While small teams lack synergies, overly large teams result in an increase in the communication effort and declining identification. This results in lower performance compared to medium-sized teams.

From the finding that additional members add capacity and skills but increase the coordination effort and make cooperation more difficult, Becker concludes that increasing team size leads to increasing process losses (Becker, 2016). Figure 5 shows this relationship qualitatively. As the number of members increases, the relative increase in performance decreases. It should be noted that, of course, performance depends on many factors. Some of these factors are described below.


Figure 5: Process losses (Becker, 2016, p. 46)



of personal background and composition

Much more interesting than the mere number of team members is the characteristics, skills and qualifications of the individual members and the composition of the team.

Demographic diversity, for example, leads to increased creativity and discussion, but it can also lead to dysfunctional conflicts, higher fluctuation, lower cohesion, lower performance and a higher rate of employee illness (Becker, 2016). Becker therefore recommends heterogeneous teams for questions which need detailed discussion, and homogenous teams if fast decision-making and implementation is desired. Major demographic differences, e.g. a large gap in age composition, are usually unfavorable (Lau & Murnighan, 2005). Besides age, other important demographic characteristics are gender and cultural background.

The situation is similar in the field of functional background. Considerable diversity can have a positive impact on team performance because of the different perspectives it offers. However, it can also cause problems such as complicated communication and increased conflict potential (Becker, 2016) (Pelled, Eisenhardt, & Xin, 1999).

Functional background and demographic diversity are relatively easy to determine. Personality features, on the other hand, are far more complex and also have a significant impact on team performance. Team performance benefits, for example, from communication skills, the ability to resolve conflicts, and independence (Becker, 2016). Further advantageous features are openness, conscientiousness, and extroversion (Kichuk & Wiesner, 1997). Intelligence is also a key feature that positively correlates with individual performance (Schmidt, 2002). Intelligent people communicate more effectively and plan and organize better (Becker, 2016). With regard to the performance of the whole team, the manner and characteristics of each team member are of particular importance. Research has shown, for example, that major differences in the characteristic of openness had a negative effect (Barrick & Stewart, 1998).

Last but not least, the qualifications of individual employees are also decisive. The professional qualification has already been discussed. But method competency also plays an important role


7 2.4 Actuality of methods

When applying methods, not only the performance of the team plays a role, but also the efficiency of a method. In particular, it is interesting to see whether and how methods have been adapted to new scientific findings. Brainstorming, for example, acutely needs adaptation. In Germany it is still taught that brainstorming has to be carried out without criticism and in a group (Lindemann, 2009). Studies have shown, however, that allowing criticism leads to better results (Nemeth, Personnaz, Personnaz, & Goncalo, 2004). In addition, it could be shown that better results can be achieved if the members of a team work individually on the problem and not as a group (Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 1991). These two findings are not results of recent years, but of recent decades. Adaptation is, therefore, long overdue, in order to make this method more effective and efficient. It can be assumed that many other methods used in product development also need adaptation. The review of the actuality of the methods is part of the research approach presented in the following section. A further problem is the question of how to provide information about the adaptation of the methods. Currently, a team at the University of Wuppertal is researching how the transfer of methodological knowledge can be improved. Practical experience and digitalization should play an important role here.

3. Approach: Concept for alternative team composition

After explaining the various factors influencing team performance in the previous section, a concept for alternative team composition will now be presented. The goal is individualized team composition to meet prevailing needs.

A first approach is the development of a staff classification procedure. As input, the abilities, qualifications, personal characteristics, and experience should be used. This process is intended to reveal the strengths and can also serve the purpose of broadening the employees’ profile through suitable training courses. This process requires objectivity, which will be one of the biggest challenges. Many aspects can be specified by the employee himself, e.g. professional skills and qualifications. Personality characteristics, on the other hand, must be determined indirectly, because they are liable to subjective assessments. However, they can be diagnosed with appropriate test methods (Becker, 2016). It is also useful to include the supervisor or a suitable person for specific characteristics, in particular professional qualifications, in order to increase objectivity.

The classification procedure must meet three important requirements. It must provide usable results, must not be too time-consuming, and must give the employee certainty that privacy will at all times be protected

Whether the classification procedure can yield useful results depends on the relevance and weighting of the features concerned. The selection as well as the weighting of the requested features will be based on existing scientific investigations and results, and will be verified in tests.

The duration of the classification procedure depends on the selection of the features. The test should be as short as possible in order to increase its acceptance.

In order to ensure data protection, the process should provide only a minimal output of information. This output can be, for example, a proposal for further training. Results such as classification of the requested personality characteristics should not be visible at any time.


They will be further processed in a subsequent step in order to determine the ideal team composition for a particular task.

This results feed into the second approach of this project, for, as with the employees, an evaluation of methods must also be carried out. The question as to the requirements needed for the efficient implementation of a particular method must be answered. The classification criteria are the characteristics considered relevant for team performance. In addition, as already explained by the example of brainstorming, the methods should be adapted directly to current research results, where necessary.

The desired end result should be individual team composition tailored to the specific project. Available human resources can be ideally utilized by selecting precisely the “right” employees for a defined task. This can meet the individual requirements of a company and a department. In addition, this approach makes it possible to select methods that were previously excluded because of the lack of personnel.

Figure 6 summarizes the practical application of the system in a company.

Figure 6: Application of the classification system

4. Discussion

Successful implementation of the idea promises an improvement of the situation in the field of method implementation, especially when combined with further approaches such as the transfer of method knowledge.

But on the way there are many hurdles to be overcome. On the one hand, it has to be shown whether the classification and combination of persons with methods leads to better results than




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