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Set-Based Concurrent Engineering (SBCE): Why should you be interested?


Set-Based Concurrent Engineering (SBCE): Why should you be interested?

Organisations are continuously pressured to launch new products and services to gain competitive advantage and satisfy highly demanding global market. And most of this pressure is directed towards product development teams, where majority of organisations still follow traditional or so called stage-gate processes. Although stage-gate process works, it is not flexible enough and tends to constrain creativity and innovation.

One paradigm that can help you bridge this gap and is becoming increasingly more popular (particularly in the last 5 to 6 years) is called Set-Based Concurrent Engineering or shorter SBCE.



Set-Based Concurrent Engineering is a product development approach which offers an environment that not only permits but encourages radical innovation, increased learning and reuse of knowledge, reduces the development risk, and enable shorter and less costly development cycles.

SBCE_IconOne of the most common definitions amongst practitioners is that SBCE is an approach where multifunctional team(s) ideates, develops and communicates sets of conceptual solutions in parallel. As the solutions progress, team(s) builds-up the understanding, knowledge and evidence about the sets, which permits them to gradually narrow these sets by eliminating inferior or/and infeasible solutions. As they narrow, teams commit to staying within the sets so that others can rely on them. This definition is depicted in the below image, where each bubble represent a different subsystem set of concepts.



Visual representation of the SBCE (convergence) process across different subsystems


While the image above displays the convergence process of different subsystems, similar approach can be adopted for conceptual solutions within each subsystem set. The schematic below shows how an initial set of ideas is developed, screened, and converged through time, based on the knowledge gained.



Visual representation of an SBCE within a single subsystem


Critical design/technical decisions are purposely delayed until the last possible moment to ensure that customer expectations are fully understood and that the reached design meets the success criteria.



In 1995 research group from MIT described the Toyota’s product development system and how they practice it. They named it Set-Based Concurrent Engineering (Ward et al., 1995). A year later, they described a set of 11 principles (Sobek & Ward, 1996) and have in 1999 refined and categorised them in a framework of three broad principles based on Toyota’s best practices, each with three different steps to implementing them (Sobek, et al, 1999). This framework is considered as the foundation of most SBCE research and implementation project.


• Define feasible regions
• Explore trade-offs by designing multiple alternatives
• Communicate sets of possibilities


• Look for intersections of feasible sets
• Impose minimum constraint
• Seek conceptual robustness


• Narrow sets gradually while increasing detail
• Stay within sets once committed
• Control by managing uncertainty at process gates



At LAA, we have established well-defined and robust building-blocks to enhance your design and development processes, enable you not only to focus your products and services around the true customers’ needs and desires, but also to offer them more innovative products and services in shorter times.

Our process builds on the best practices of SBCE but is at the same time implementing other world-leading methodologies, such as design thinking, human-cantered design, knowledge management and visual management. I will describe LAA’s Set-Based Integrated Innovation Framework in greater details in one of my future blogs, but in my upcoming blog I will discuss the origin and key principles behind one of the most forthcoming business improvement approaches of this time: Design Thinking.

If you are considering to exploring business improvement in your organisations, do not hesitate to contact us for more information.



or add us on Skype: lean-analytics


For a detailed whitepaper on SBCE including current industrial product development challenges, more holistic historic overview, benefits of SBCE and practical examples of implementation, feel free to email us.

You can also subscribe to our blog and receive fresh articles and news directly into your inbox.



  • Sobek, D.K. and Ward, A.C. 1996. Principles from Toyota’s set-based concurrent engineering process. Proceedings of The 1996 ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers in Engineering Conference. California, US. pp 1-9.
  • Sobek, D.K., Ward, A.C. & Liker, J.K.  1999. Toyota’s principles of set-based concurrent engineering. Sloan Management Review. 40(2): 67-83.
  • Ward, A.C., Liker, J.K., Cristiano, J.J. and Sobek, D.K. 1995. The second Toyota Paradox: How delaying decisions can make better cars faster. Sloan Management Review. 36(3):43-61.
Matic Golob

Matic Golob is a Senior Research Program Manager, trainer, and coach at Lean Analytics Association (LAA) where he focuses on the development, introduction and implementation of bespoke lean innovation and new product development solutions to support organizations on their continuous improvement journeys. He specializes in Set-Based Integrated Innovation, Design Thinking, Human-Cantered Design, SBCE, Visual Management, Knowledge Management, Training Development and Gamified Learning. Matic previously worked as a Research Fellow and Project Manager at Cranfield University, where he was a task leader of Set-Based Design activities for the British aerospace project named ‘Configuration Optimization of Next Generation Aircraft’. Throughout his career, Matic collaborated with multinational organizations from aerospace, construction, and the fast moving consumer goods industry to introduce and implement lean thinking into their existing innovation and product development processes. He completed his master degree in Global Product Development and Management from Cranfield University in 2012. Matic is also a co-author of several journal and conference publications, as well as a regular speaker at lean and product development events, and he is currently co-developing his first book about lean product development best practices.

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