Monthly Archives: March 2014

How to Design for Speed and Simplicity

Guest post from Bart Huthwaite

How to Design for Speed & Simplicity

Quick time-to-market comes from getting the small things right.  Here is a check list to follow:

  1. Smaller is better.  Keep your product team small, typically no more than 6-8 members.  And make sure all know the importance of product speed and are totally committed to it.  Communication is faster when fewer are involved.
  2. Get the “Big Picture” first.  Don’t start without a clear “end-in-view” and a strategy for getting there.  Build your strategy on the strategic values which will make your product or service a long term winner.  Your team members will be able to make decisions faster.  Strong “buy-in” to a team’s game plan encourages faster response time when crises arise.
  3. Work in parallel.   Parallel work compresses product launch time.  Constantly work to build confidence and trust, thus encouraging early understanding and commitment of these parallel teams.
  4. Avoid “sand bag” solutions.   Sand bag solutions are those which slow down a new product effort.  These can include specifying a new, untested manufacturing process, launching a product with an untrained sales force and implementing a new CAD system the same time you are developing a new product effort.  These kinds of innovation are best done “off-line,”  and are only inserted into the product development cycle when they are fully proven.
  5. Create a “Team Efficiency Charter.”  Identify and agree on the characteristics of a highly efficient new product team.   Good product teams build standards of excellence and then adhere to them.
  6. Measure both product effectiveness and team efficiency in “real time.”  Product effectiveness is how well your product is attaining its goals.  Team efficiency is how well your team dynamics are working, such as the speed decision-making and follow-through.  Fast track product teams keep a stop watch record of everything.
  7. Think ahead.  Develop your product in three generations.  This helps your team anticipate the future.   I call this technique “step”, “stretch” and “leap.”  This helps you prepare for future shifts in technology, competition and marketplace changes.  This helps you avoid “re-inventing the wheel.”  Only insert new technology into your product when risk has been reduced to a minimum.
  8. Get management involved and committed at the early concept stage.  Management buy-in “up-front” reduces your team’s fear of failure.  Do this beginning at the early product concept stage.
  9. Be time driven.  Never start a meeting or a task without first setting a specific time to finish it.  And stick to your guns.  Avoid trying to get the entire job done in one sitting.  Shoot for 80% and then come back to the issue later.  Iteration is a hallmark of effective design teams.
  10.  Let us know how we can help.  LEAN Product Design is our passion. Contact us to learn about our onsite programs to help you.

Dump PowerPoint – Physicists, Generals, and CEOs agree

This week National Public Radio (NPR) Alan Yu had a fascinating report.   In it he sites top level scientist and leaders in both the military and business who are boycotting PowerPoint presentations for communication and  information transfer.

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin.  Adam Berry/Getty Images

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin. Adam Berry/Getty Images

A PowerPoint slide is projected on a screen prior to a lecture at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress computer hacker conference in Berlin.     Adam Berry/Getty Images

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider noticed that the transfer of information was hindering communication.  All of the communication was one-way.   The report quotes one of the scientists:

“The use of the PowerPoint slides was acting as a straitjacket to discussion,” says Andrew Askew, an assistant professor of physics at Florida State University and one of the organizers of the forum at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.”

The scientists were discovering that instead of a two-way communication, everything was one-way.    In one-way only communication, people in the audience typically zone out and often tune out.

And this is not only true in scientific circles, PowerPoint is being thrown out at the top levels of business and in the military.  The NPR article goes out to state:

The CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn have eliminated the presentations from meetings. In his recently published memoir, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls PowerPoint slides “the bane of my existence in Pentagon meetings; it was as though no one could talk without them.”

So, what is happening is that people are noticing that something happens when PowerPoint or other multi-slide presentation modes are used…people become disengaged.   And when they disengage, meaningful discussion stops.  This is ultimately a time waster.  And even if there is meaningful content in the presentation, it is missed, overlooked, or just not heard.

Danger exists if key information is skimmed over and not taken into account.   One such event has been documented in numerous spots, and this NPR article notes it as well: the potential failure of the o-rings at low temperatures on the space shuttle solid rock boosters was actually known and in a NASA report.   But the presentation of the data was not made clear or presented in a form to delay the launch of the shuttle.  This resulted in the tragic events that we now call the Challenger disaster.

So if PowerPoint isn’t used in scientific reviews, board rooms, and at the strategy table, what takes its place?  It is interesting that the military said only maps and charts can be used.    What they are getting at is that the information has to visible and easily understood.

The visual presentation of information on a single page is the key.


In lean, we favor one single page of information on an A3 (approximately 11″ x 17″) size sheet of paper.   This single page houses all of the information about the topic.

The A3 forces the author/presentor to:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Be concise and make decision on what to show or not to show
  • Show their thinking
  • Favor graphics, charts, and graphs over text
  • Refer to the document when speaking

The A3 document helps the audience:

  • Focus in on the information that is important
  • Know what information to point to when asking questions
  • Know where to look in the future to recall and reference the information
  • Have confidence that the key information is being communicated

There are multiple documents that can be converted into an A3 format.   Status reports, project plans, proposals, decision documents, etc. These are all potential candidates.

The A3 format is particularly powerful for communicating new knowledge that is gained during the research and development phases of projects.   So the A3 becomes a very important tool in Lean product development.

In all of these cases, it is important to ask for the A3 style document instead of PowerPoint.  Or better yet, demand it!

So, throw away your PowerPoint, and start communicating on a single A3 page.