3 Ways Products Became More Complex in the Last Five Years

A recent study of almost 300 design and engineering professionals conducted by Engineering.com and sponsored by Jama Software showed that not only are products increasing in complexity, but that many organizations are not equipped with the right tools to manage the intricacies of complex product development.

The study showed that over the last five years, unsurprisingly, most development teams have seen their products become more complex. In fact, 92% of respondents in the study reported experiencing at least one form of increasing complexity.

In fact, over the last five years, 76% of respondents reported dealing with three or more increased measures of complexity and 25% saw their products become more complex in five or more ways.

Here are the top three ways that products have become more complicated in the last five years, according to the study:

Mechanical Designs are Getting More Intricate

Part of what makes modern product development so complex is the volume of parts and components involved. The survey found that mechanical designs had become more intricate in the last five years for more than half (57%) of respondents. Not only are the number of components increasing, parts are sourced from multiple vendors and are now much smaller and more technologically advanced, adding another layer of complexity to product development.

And with mechanical design intricacy comes increasingly complex requirements. The study showed that product feature requirements are critical to 79% of respondents and that in order to properly manage intricate mechanical designs, organizations need an information system to handle requirements throughout each stage of product development. Further, teams using a formal, purpose-built requirements management platform were less likely to experience product outcome failures.

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Electronic Components are Increasing

According to the study, about half of respondents (47%) said that products were becoming more complex because of the increasing number of electronic components. As the market continues to demand more connected products — think thermostats, lights and doorbells that all connect to your smartphone — product developers must incorporate more electronic components and software into their designs.

And while this won’t come as a shock to anyone, it’s clear that integrating more electronic components, embedded software and microprocessors necessitates clear and granular requirements management and testing. 

Teams Are Needing to Adopt Different Materials

Nearly half (43%) of respondents said that products are increasing in complexity because they are adopting new materials. And while this is true across all industries represented in the study, it’s especially true for the automotive industry.

Connected automobiles are rising in popularity and giving drivers new ways of interacting with vehicles while providing data directly to smartphones. Under the hood, many electric and connected vehicles work with entirely different designs and materials than traditional combustion engines, leading to faster performance and less maintenance.

And, of course, the race towards self-driving automobiles is bringing with it a whole new level of intense complexity that’s forcing teams to adopt new and innovative technologies and materials.

Managing Requirements in Complex Product Development

Perhaps the most interesting finding to come out of this report is that while 92% of respondents reported experiencing at least one form of increasing complexity, only 15% relied on a dedicated requirements management platform to help them manage that complexity. Further, without a purpose-built solution, the report showed that teams with ineffective requirements management were more likely to experience product outcome failures (83%) and reprimands by regulatory agencies (62%).

The report went on to conclude that the data showed that most design and engineering teams are producing increasingly complex products. Yet most teams haven’t been investing in the technology available that would help them manage the requirements this complexity demands.

To dive deeper into the relationship between rising product complexity and effective requirements management, download the full report: Design Teams: Requirements Management & Product Complexity.”

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