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The Goldilocks Dilemma

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment

With increasing product complexity comes the necessity for technical specialization. For example, I help build multi-million dollar air defense and air traffic control radars that require the integration of:

  • RF microwave antenna design skills,
  • electro-mechanical design skills,
  • physical materials design skills,
  • analog RF/IF transmitter and receiver design skills,
  • digital signal processing hardware design skills,
  • secure internet design skills,
  • mathematical radar waveform and tracker design skills,
  • real-time embedded software design skills,
  • web/GUI software design skills,
  • database design skills.

Unless you’re incredibly lucky enough to be blessed with a team of Einsteins, it’s impractical, to the point of insanity, to expect people to become proficient across more than one (perhaps two is doable, but rare) of these deep, time-consuming-to-acquire, engineering skill sets.

As the figure below illustrates, one of the biggest challenges in complex product development is the Goldilocks dilemma: deciding how much specialism is “just right” for your product development team.

Just Right

Too much specialism leads to an exponential increase in the number of inter-specialist communication links/languages to manage effectively. Too little specialism leads to the aforementioned “team of Einsteins” syndrome or, in the worst case, the “too many eggs in one basket” risk.

So, is there some magic, plug & play formula that you can crank through to determine the optimal level of specialism required in your product development team? I suspect not, but hey, if you develop one from first principles, lemme know and we’ll start a new consulting LLP to milk that puppy. Hell, even if you pull one out of your ass that people with lots o’ money will buy into, still gimme a call.

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