Improving the Fuzzy Front-end of Large Engineering Programs - Interviews with Subject Matter Experts and Case Studies on Front-end Practices

Sebastian Lucae, Diploma Thesis Nr. 1392



Motivation  |  Situation.  Large-scale  engineering  programs,  such  as  the  construction  of Berlin’s new airport, the developments in the aerospace industry of the Airbus A380 and Boeing Dreamliner, or the development of new electric vehicles commonly involve several different organizations and stakeholders in a program organization. Due to their socio- technical and organizational complexity, they are affected by a number of serious risks, and frequently suffer from large schedule and cost overruns. Significant problems in program execution can be traced back to practices performed, or more frequently not performed, in the so-called “fuzzy front end” of the program. The lack of sufficient and structured efforts in the early stages of a program can result in unstable, unclear and incomplete requirements, unclear roles and responsibilities within the program organization, and unproductive tensions between program management and systems engineering. Recently, MIT’s Consortium for Engineering Program Excellence has developed a collection of 43 best practices, so called Lean Enablers to support program managers to apply Lean Thinking in the management of engineering programs. However, yet it is unclear how and when these Enablers are to be implemented.

Goals | Design | Methodology. This study intends to understand and identify improvement

potential of current front-end practices and to explore the applicability of the identified 43

Lean Enablers in the front-end of engineering programs. To do that, a literature research about

current front-end models and practices is performed and studies that demonstrate the benefit from up-front efforts are summarized. Based on that, a generic model is developed to describe the program front-end and involved activities. Subsequently, interviews with subject matter experts are performed to understand current complexity and uncertainty drivers and common mistakes made in the front-end of engineering programs. Additionally, to gain insight into promising new planning approaches and derive planning success factors, four case studies about program planning workshops and supporting tools in four different companies are explored.  The  correspondence  of  these  cases  with  the  Lean  Enablers  for  Program Management is examined to demonstrate the applicability and of the Lean Enablers in the early stages of engineering programs and eventual benefits.


Findings | Practical Implications. A number of qualitative and quantitative studies are reviewed that demonstrate the importance of rigorous efforts in the front-end of large engineering programs. A suitable model for the front-end of engineering programs is developed that explains the involved activities, the purpose of front-end efforts, and a basic process. To increase the understanding of factors that impede reliable planning in large engineering  programs,  five  categories  of  complexity  drivers  (environment,  technology, people, strategy, and organization & process) in the early phases of engineering programs are identified and explained. Fourteen mistake themes frequently made during the planning phase were derived from interviews with practitioners and summarized. Besides that, the study illuminated four promising industry examples that demonstrate the benefit from early integration events, that involve key stakeholders in facilitated cross-functional planning workshops, and the application of the Lean Enablers in early phases. Eventually, a framework is conceptualized that deduces planning success criteria from the observations made in this study. It allows to appraise the reliability and maturity of program plans during the front-end.



Keywords: Program   Management,   Front-End   of   Engineering   Programs,   Planning

Workshop, Frontloading, Lean Thinking, Lean Enablers for Managing Engineering Programs