Complexity and control: Benchmarking of automobiles and electronic products

Takahiro Fujimoto*, Young Won Park

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this exploratory paper is to analyze how complexity of an artifact affects designing processes of its mechanical, electric, and software sub-systems. Design/methodology/approach: Based on existing empirical research and frameworks of axiomatic design, product architecture, and product development process, the paper proposes a simple model of functional and structural design to examine how engineers' ways of thinking differ among mechanical, electric and software engineers. Findings: This paper argues that products and artifacts tend to become complex (often with integral architecture) when customers' functional requirements become more demanding and societal/technological constraints become stricter, and that complex mechanical products are often accompanied by electronic control units with complex functions. This implies that designing complex mechanical products often requires intensive coordination among mechanical, electric and software engineers. This, however, is not easy, as engineers' way of thinking is often different among the three areas: mechanical engineers want to complete structural design information first to build prototypes; electrical and software engineers (the latter in particular) request complete functional information first. Research limitations/implications: In order to solve the above-mentioned mechanical-electrical-software coordination problem, engineers need to share basic design concept of the product in question. Heavy-weight product managers who infuse the product concept to the project members might be the key to this coordination. Companies may need to make sure that their product development processes are friendly to all of the three groups of engineers. Originality/value: Although designing complex artifacts has been a popular research theme since H. Simon's seminal work, issues of organizational coordination for developing complex products, with increasing managerial importance, need further research. With an empirical case of the automobile and electronic products, the present paper is unique in that it combines frameworks of product development processes, product architectures, and organizational capabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)502-516
Number of pages15
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jul
Externally publishedYes


  • Complexity
  • Control relationship
  • Electric system
  • Mechanical systems
  • Software engineering
  • Software system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management


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