The Impact of Simulation Based Planning

of the Fuzzy Front End Stage of a Project

Michal Iluz, Bryan Moser, Josef Oehmen, Avraham Shtub, 8th Israel International Conference on  Systems Engineering, March 2015


Conventional wisdom suggest that a well-planned and organized launch can improve the chances of the success of the entire project. The initial stages of a New Product Development (NPD process are termed the "Fuzzy Front End" (FFE), as they are the messy "getting started" period of the new product development processes. It is in the front end where the organization formulates a concept of the product to be developed and decides whether or not to invest resources in the further development of an idea. The FFE begins with the initial search for new opportunities, through the formation of a germ of an idea to the development of a precise concept. The Fuzzy Front End ends when the organization approves and begins formal development of the concept. The Fuzzy Front End presents many challenges. Stakeholders' requirements need to be understood and formulated. In large systems it may often be impractical to model entire systems due to uncertainty, sheer size and complexity. The process of creating alternatives to the project approach are often manual, resulting in missed alternatives that may have been better choices. Our challenge for the FFE is to improve the way alternatives are discussed and selected. We present a methodology our experience using a Simulation Based Planning (SBP) workshop during the early stages of a program. The workshop – the duration of which is one to four days – assembles all the project key stakeholders in order to jointly work out the details of the alternative project scenarios, based on various ways of arranging the project elements and architecture, including scope, team roles, dependencies leading to systemic program schedule, risks and opportunities identification and mitigation, critical actions, and clarified key assumptions. The purpose of the workshop and its ultimate deliverables are to select the preferred design alternative, to establish a detailed baseline work plan which coherently reflects this design alternative, to ensure the allocation of the resources required for the plan implementation, and to create a risk mitigation and abatement plan. A project simulator is used as a tool for planning and testing the robustness of the project work plan alternatives. The simulator employed in our work was the Project Team Builder (PTB) which is a Decision Support System designed to support New Product Development (NPD) teams in the Fuzzy Front End of the NPD process. The method and tools used combine classical project management domains like scheduling of activities with requirements management to support the process of selecting alternative designs that determine system performance. The simulator allows the generation of a project scenario that includes the activities, the probability distribution of lead time in a stochastic, resource-constrained project network, duration, dependencies and necessary resources and staff. Based on the input, the simulator offers a forecast for the project cost, schedule and the product performance. Users have the possibility of interactively experiencing the process of multiple criteria decision making by getting an opportunity to cope with the results of these decisions on the execution of the project. The simulator allows the user to model various characteristic of the project’s design, including different scope alternatives, and then to execute these activities (e.g. “re-use of components” vs. “new development of components”). The user can subsequently explore the effect of these design alternatives on the system requirements as well as on the project schedule and costs. This methodology for applying simulation-based planning in engineering programs has been successfully implemented in a variety of projects in the industry. Our experience so far shows that the investment of time and resources in conducting the proposed workshop at the early stages of the project has a significant impact on a range of aspects of the project being launched:

1. An increased robustness of meeting the project goals: performance, duration and cost.

2. Optimal selection of a design alternative by immediate feedback and interactive evaluation of technical design tradeoffs.

3. Quatative analysis of project risks, e.g., the risk of on-time delivery of the project.

4. Early synchronization between the various program disciplines.

5. Achievement of shared understanding amongst team members and other stakeholders.

In conclusion, an approach is presented for launching a project including methodology and tools that provide an enhancement of the decision making process when the development of a new product is considered. The highlight of the methodology is a workshop which utilizes a project simulator to obtain immediate feedback regarding the effectiveness of various tradespace alternatives. The methodology supports project stakeholders, managers, and system engineers in coping with the high complexity of the Fuzzy Front End stage of the project, and venture into the following stages of the project in a more effective and robust manner. In this paper we consider the unique requirements of the fuzzy front end of a complex project and the differences between a simulation-based early planning and traditional project management. We propose an experimental approach to evaluate the efficacy of various simulation-based approaches for the fuzzy front end.

Keywords: simulation based training; front end; project planning; project simulation