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Have a look at Apple
In many areas, the somewhat idiosyncratic process of product and production design at Apple differs from what most companies utilise or consider normal. It is an example of an extreme striving towards a good product, whatever the costs. The recent book, Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired – and Secretive – Company Really Works, reveals various aspects of Apple’s product production process, amongst which the product-development process. Apple utilises a broad spectrum of unusual principles in its product development.
Designers are the kings at Apple
At Apple, the will of the design department is law. Designers are separated from the influence of other departments and are barely limited in any way. This is in sharp contrast with what is considered ordinary in many other companies, wherein designers often have to seriously consider the costs and the wishes of the production departments.
A start-up is founded
Once the decision regarding a new product has been taken, a team is formed, which is separated from the rest of the company through secret agreements, and sometimes even physical demarcations. As such, parts of the building can be closed off to provide the team with the necessary space for their project. In this way, Apple effectively launches a “start-up” within the company that only has to report to the management team and is freed from the structures inherent to a large company.
Products are evaluated every Monday
The Executive Team meets every Monday to discuss each product that is currently being developed. This is made possible due to the fact that Apple never has very many products in its development portfolio. If a product cannot be discussed on any given Monday, it is moved forward to the next week. As such, important decisions regarding products that are being developed are always taken within the space of two weeks. In this way, problems can be located and tackled fast, benefitting the time to market.
The “EPM mafia”
Once a product is ready for production, two responsible parties, who become accountable for the product’s realisation, are appointed: the engineering programme manager (EPM) and the global supply manager (GSM). The first has absolute control over the production process, and has so much power in this that people often speak of the “EPM mafia”. Both positions are filled by management members who spend the largest part of their time supervising the production process in China. The supply manager and the programme manager work together, but their cooperation is not free from mutual tensions, due to the fact that they continuously have to take decisions regarding “what is best for the product” together.
Once a product has been completed, it is entirely redesigned, constructed and tested
Several times there have been leaks of products, such as the iPhone, which were never brought to market. These leaked versions reveal that once a product is finalised, Apple entirely redevelops this product and has it go through the entire manufacturing process again. This process takes four to six weeks and ends with the coming together of all responsible parties. The EPM brings the beta device from China to the Apple Campus in California for research and commenting, and returns to China to supervise the next batch of product modifications. This means that for each device, there are always multiple finished versions; a process that goes far beyond merely constructing a prototype. This is an incredibly expensive working method, but it is the standard at Apple.
The launch, controlled by the “Rules of the Road”
For the product launch, an action plan is drafted called the “Rules of the Road”. This top-secret document lists each important milestone, from the development of the product to its launch. For each milestone, a directly responsible individual (DRI) is assigned. This person is responsible for the realisation of his milestone. Losing this document, or showing it to the wrong people, results in immediate dismissal, as is also indicated in the document itself.
As becomes clear from all of this, Apple often takes decisions that make the process significantly more expensive and less efficient in order to arrive at a significantly better product. Many companies are too complex or too caught up in the traditional way of acting to incorporate large parts, or even one aspect, of this process. Nonetheless, there is still a considerable simplicity to the whole: the strategic purpose – “developing a superior product” – is crystal clear, and effectively dominates the entire organisation.