Product architecture is the scheme by which the function of a product is allocated to physical components. This paper argues that the architecture of the product can be a key driver of the performance of the manufacturing firm, that firms have substantial latitude in choosing a product architecture, and that the architecture of the product is therefore important in managerial decision making.
Product architecture is particularly relevant to the research and development (R & D) function of a company, because architectural decisions are made during the early phases of the innovation process where the R & D function often plays a lead role. While these architectural decisions are linked to the overall performance of the firm, they are also linked to specific R & D issues, including the ease of product change, the division between internal and external development resources, the ability to achieve certain types of technical product performance, and the way development is managed and organized.
In making these arguments, the paper builds on knowledge from several somewhat disparate research communities: design theory, software engineering, operations management and management of product development. My approach is to synthesize fragments of existing theory and knowledge into a new framework for understanding product architecture, and to use this framework to illuminate, with examples, how the architecture ...