When engineers are placed on a tight deadline, the reaction is fairly common: rush to complete work as quickly as possible. However, a new philosophy regarding design has recently emerged that actually takes the opposite position: make no design decision before it is absolutely necessary.

Defining Just in Time Engineering (JITE)

The philosophy of JIT is simple: inventory is waste. JIT inventory systems expose the hidden cost of keeping inventory, and are therefore not a simple solution for a company to adopt. The company must follow an array of new methods to manage the consequences of the change. The ideas in this way of working come from many different disciplines including statistics, industrial engineering, production management, and behavioral science.

Source: Wikipedia entry for Just in Time (JIT)

In contrast to the application of JIT principles in manufacturing, its use in engineering is about the timing of making decisions rather than something physical like inventory. The idea is to commit to a decision at the last possible moment. The advantage of such a philosophy lies in an immutable fact of engineering: more knowledge enables more informed and, hence, better decisions. With more time, engineers can explore more iterations and variations of a design. As some succeed and some fail, engineers gain insight into the impact of those differences on a product’s performance and characteristics.

However, let’s be frank: no engineer has an infinite amount of time to design a product. The emphasis on time-to-market drives the timing of development schedules. Engineers need to hit deadlines so that development can progress and products can be manufactured and launched. Therein lies the counterbalance to exploring iterations and variations on the design for too long.

With a JIT engineering philosophy, engineers have the maximum amount of time to gain knowledge about the design and make better decisions. Yet, compliance with the schedule is maintained.

Challenges addressed by Just in Time Engineering

Pursuing JIT engineering represents a significant change from the traditional operations of an engineering organization. However, this change directly addresses some of the challenges that come with the trends shaping modern engineering.


Challenge Addressed

Advantage Provided

The Visibility Mandate for Engineering OperationsEngineering managers must derive new design-based metrics that measure the progress of well-engineered products.Just in Time Engineering adds decision-making deadlines to the schedule, removing the exclusive reliance on deliverable-based metrics.
The Increasing Volatility of Engineering WorkEngineering managers must find a way to minimize disruptive design rework.Just in Time Engineering enables engineers to make better decisions, reducing the chance that errors get past design release.

Steps to pursue Just in Time Engineering

  • The engineering manager needs to start with the release dates and back up to the points where design decisions must be completed. This will depend on the time needed to complete design deliverables, pass testing and build out prototypes. The new deadlines for design decisions become part of the schedule, like the completion of any other activity.
  • In addition to integrating design decisions into the schedule, engineering managers will have to change the mindsets of their engineers. For their entire careers, engineers have been rushed to make design decisions as fast as possible. With Just in Time Engineering principles, engineers must have a renewed emphasis on design due diligence within the constraints of the schedule.