Product complexity is driven by the interdependence of product functions, which in turn determines the interdependence of design tasks, and this is reflected in the complexity of the design process. Ever increasing product complexity has become an obstacle to effective product design. This paper introduces an agent-based model that was used to study the impact and mitigation of product complexity, where complexity was characterised by metrics defined from a knowledge perspective. In the model, a product was represented as a set of functions that required designer knowledge, component design and component integration. Designers were modelled as agents who learned knowledge through consultation and who applied knowledge to function design tasks. Variables that characterised different coordination mechanisms influenced the efficiency and quality of communication between designers and impacted the global behaviour of product design. The results from simulation experiments suggested that a growth in complexity increased effort and span time exponentially and that coordination mechanisms which quickly increased designer learning or which improved collaboration reduced overall effort. The implication for managers is that, for the design of complex products, attention should be paid to the effectiveness of coordination mechanisms, and how they reduce the time for designer learning. The implications with regard to complexity during product design can be applied to other activities where learning is a key performance factor.
agent-based model, complexity, product design, coordination, simulation
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