Monthly Archives: September 2012

Development problems and lean development

Development problems and making designs lean

Timothy Schipper

Early in my career, I was a product developer.   However, I quickly became disenchanted with the whole development process.  I loved the engineering part of the job, solving problems and finding solutions.  It was the lack of alignment, loop backs, and rework that discouraged me.   I found that the whole process lacked focus and that projects spawned huge amounts of rework.  Rework appeared in many forms – late design changes, added requirements, and a general lack of focus.  I found that development only address part of the value equation, and usually did not address the problem of anticipating manufacturing wastes and design inefficiencies.

My career took a few turns.   I left product development after a few years, working as an IT project manager and then as a manager.  It was during this period of time that I found lean methods.   I studied how lean was applied to manufacturing and also the office.   I found that the lean tools provided a framework for looking at problems, and working on root cause elimination.   The idea  of continuous improvement appealed to me as a way to move an organization to be more efficient.  Lean became my new passion.   Nearly 10 years and 120 workshops later, I had mastered the art of applying lean to the carpeted areas of the business.  It was during that journey that I discovered another application of lean.

Have you ever wondered if lean could be applied to the design world?  Could it be used as a method to design more efficiently?   Could it inform a product that was still on the drawing board, or should I say still in the CAD system?   It is clear that it could be applied after the fact, once products were designed and hit the factory floor.  Lean applied in manufacturing creates efficient value streams that run at a constant TAKT time with minimal inventory.  But what does lean look like when applied to design?

The discovery I made was that lean could be applied to design just as well as it has been applied to manufacturing.  Much of the language is the same, but the tactics are quite different.    About 5 years ago, I was introduced to the topic of designs that are lean at a Huthwaite Institute Summit.   It allowed me to synthesize my thinking and explore the world of design in a new way.  This proved to be a thinking model as well as a guide for individuals and teams on how to apply lean to their development process.   Thinking and reading Bart Huthwaite’s books inspired me to create LEAN products.both products and processes that are lean from the start.

The methods works well with teams who need to innovate quickly and speed development along.  It is unique in that it works on both the process of development and on the product that is being designed.   One of my favorite quotes is that for something to be lean it has to be lean from the start.  In other words, wastes have to be designed out for the system upfront.

I was inspired to write about how development could generate innovative products and lean process.  The book Innovative LEAN Development was one of the ways that I explored the idea of lean applied to development.  I co-authored the book with my colleague, Mark Swets.  It is our attempt to make a contribution to the knowledge base of lean development and design.

If you have been frustrated with the development experience as we were, then I encourage to investigate the lean development method.   We have witnessed many teams who successfully applied lean development to improve their process and the quality of their products.

If you find the idea of lean for development intriguing and would like to learn more, please respond and tell me your challenges and frustrations with the development process.  Let’s explore together how lean can remove your most difficult development gaps.  I only wish that I had found the lean method earlier in my career.

—– Tim