Scheduling and coordination of distributed design projects

Date of Completion

January 1999


Engineering, Electronics and Electrical|Engineering, Industrial|Operations Research




A short product design cycle is critical to the success of companies in the era of time-based competition. To cut short design time, project managers tend to start downstream tasks as early as possible. The underlying design activities, however, are often interlinked and quite uncertain. Some activities may have to be iterated several times to meet the design criteria, and resources may subject to unpredictable breakdowns. The early beginning of activities with preliminary information can cause high re-design efforts, often introducing serious perturbations on the commitment of designers and resources and on project completion. Furthermore, time-critical projects suffer the risk of failure if they cannot meet established target dates. Generating good and robust schedules with an appropriate trade-off between early start and low re-design efforts is thus critical, especially under the concurrent engineering paradigm where the delay of a single task may have a domino effect on subsequent tasks and on other projects sharing designers and/or resources. This “how fast is too fast” trade-off, however, is extremely difficult. ^ On top of the above difficulties, recent trend of product development is for a company to distribute design activities across regions to take advantages of local expertise and to better penetrate local markets under the intense global competition. Scheduling and coordinating this distributed design are more difficult than in a centralized setting because of factors such as time zone differences and individual organization's proprietary information and decision-making authorities. ^ This dissertation addresses the scheduling and coordination of distributed design projects in an uncertain environment. The first part of the dissertation is to provide a new problem formulation and a novel solution methodology for the scheduling of projects with uncertain number of iterations while managing design risks. The second part considers random resource breakdowns for the scheduling of design and manufacturing activities. The third part studies the scheduling and coordination of distributed design activities with the requirement of individual organization's proprietary information and decision-making authorities, and is motivated by the need of a scheduling and coordination system at Sikorsky for distributed helicopter design. ^