Category Archives: Innovation

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.

Is your development team on the proper trajectory for success?

Development Trajectory …


Trajectory is not a word that is used very often anymore.  When I was growing up, however, I recall that the word was frequently used with the Apollo missions to the moon.  I was 10 years old in 1969 when the first man stepped onto the moon.  One of the primary concerns was firing the rockets of the Apollo command module at the right time and for the correct duration to put it on the proper trajectory toward the moon.   The critical goal was to have the rocket carrying the astronauts leave the earth’s orbit and point it toward the moon with enough accuracy so that it could enter orbit around the moon.  This required a lot of mathematical calculations and a deep understanding of physics by the engineers and scientists.    Accuracy was of the utmost importance.    Additional course corrections could be made along the way, but the initial burn was the most important.

In development, the trajectory is often set early.  If it is set correctly, then the goal can be reached.   If the trajectory is set incorrectly, then the goal will never be reached.  The project must be directionaly correct from the start.   All factors and design elements have to be considered from the start.  These are difficult to anticipate because there can be many unknowns when development is started.

The proper development technique is to identify the knowledge gaps upfront that must be closed.  This end-in-view thinking helps to set the trajectory of the entire project.   The Lean Design Solution (Huthwaite) describes the techniques to set the proper trajectory of the project by exercising End-in-View thinking.

One technique that teams have used is to brainstorm as many knowledge gaps as possible at the start of the design.  Brainstorming alone, however, does not always properly uncover all of the gaps or set the team on the right course to find the correct solutions.  A more structured method is required.  The proper gaps must be uncovered to show the team what knowledge must be researched and documented.  Some knowledge gaps might identify new areas of research and discovery.  These are sensitive areas that require careful exploration.  The entire solution space of unexplored knowledge gaps must be explored.

The LEAN Design Solution describes methods to expose the gaps, and it provides a method to fully explore the solution space and close the gaps.  And Innovative LEAN Development (the book I co-authored with Mark Swets) tells how to rapidly close knowledge gaps and document the knowledge gained using rapid learning cycles.

As the team closes the knowledge gaps, the project trajectory is managed and can be effectively set to point the team in the proper direction.   Are you and your team setting yourselves up on the correct trajectory?
~Timothy Schipper

Discovery – and Rapid Learning Cycles

What do you want to discover today?

Heuristic (pronounced /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/, from the Greek “Εὑρίσκω” for “find” or “discover”) is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. Archimedes is said to have shouted “Heureka” (later converted to “Eureka”) after discovering the principle of displacement in his bath.  You might remember from physics that displacement is the principle that a floating object will displace its own weight in water.


Heuristics is the art of solving a problem in the best or most optimal way that is possible.  The optimal solution will be the most elegant one that is possible.  In nature, we find that the solutions have been created to be the most optimal, with nothing wasted.  The design of a plant is unique to its environment, taking in the right amount of light from the sun and nourishment from the soil.

When humans attempt to solve a knotty, or difficult, problem, we have to use a trial-and-error method.  We are limited, and do not take all the variables and parameters into account.

Enter Learning Cycles … Rapid Learning Cycles (RLCs) are a method of laying out the problem and approaching it with a series of rapid iterations of building, prototyping, and testing each one.

The best developers and inventors practice the art of RLCs. Thomas Edison reportedly tried something on the order of 3,000 materials for the filament of the electric lightbulb.

Or take the case of Charles Goodyear.  By the mid 1830s, it seemed as though the rubber industry in America was going under. The problem with the new material was that it was unstable – becoming completely solid and cracking in the winter, then melting into goo in the summer. Miraculously the industry was saved by inventor Charles Goodyear – a man with no knowledge of chemistry who worked stubbornly and tenaciously to develop vulcanized rubber.

After incidentally learning about rubber’s fatal flaw, Charles Goodyear became determined to invent a way to make the substance more stable. Without a steady job, he lived for years off of advancements from investors. When his experiments with rubber continually failed, Goodyear reduced his family to poverty, was jailed for debt and derided by society as a mad man.

Undeterred, inventor Charles Goodyear finally found that, by uniformly heating sulfur- and lead-fortified rubber at a relatively low temperature, he could render the rubber melt-proof and reliable. He patented the process in 1844, licensed it to manufacturers and was ultimately hailed as a genius.

Years after his death, when the age of automobiles dawned, two brothers from Ohio decided to name their company after the man who made their product possible – hence Goodyear tires were born.

So, discover something today using rapid learning cycles… and don’t be discouraged by the iterative nature of problem solving.


Source for Charles Good year story:

Learning Cycles and Rapid Prototyping Ironman style



Tony Stark tests his prototype suit


A rapid learning cycle calls for rapid prototyping methods.  Inside of a rapid learning cycle, an innovator creates multiple design options, and then builds and tests the prototypes.  Developing prototypes helps to eliminate the risks in development.  Although, in the case of Tony Stark’s test flight, we all realize that he should have spent a little more time analyzing the risks before taking off in his Ironman suit.  

As an illustration of rapid prototyping, consider the prototype shop that Tony Stark builds in his Malibu beachfront house.  Here he can build prototypes on his Bridgeport milling machine, use sophisticated 3D computer software, and give commands to his smart robots.  



Tony uses the workshop to create rapidly evolving versions of his IronMan suits.   His workshop is basically a rapid prototyping set-up where he can create anything from the IronMan suits to a particle accelerator.   In IronMan II, Tony digitized the model city created by his father (digital wireframes of existing objects is a technology that exists today), and then creates a full 3D model, which unlocks the secrets handed down from his father to a key new element which not only will increase the power of his suit, but save his life.  

 Tony Stark has all the technology he needs to build a small-scale particle accelerator to generate the new element for his power supply, the arc reactor.  Sound impossible to build a particle accelerate in just a few days?  Well, it is the movies after all.  Tony even uses Captain America’s shield to level out one section of the accelerator tube!  Now that is a rough, quick, and effective use of prototyping (plus a little drama and foreshadowing of future movies thrown into the mix)!  

This is a great movie and very entertaining.  The movie shows what a rapid prototyping shop of the future might look like!  


Learning Cycle on Successful Blogging

I just read Tim Westergren’s blog, and Pandora has reached over 50 million registered viewers.  This is an unbelievable number of worldwide users. My son and wife recently introduced me to this wonderful tool, and I have a favorite channel.  As a fan (and sometime player) of the classical guitar, my channel is one for my favorite artist …  Christopher Parkening, one of the best classical guitarists in the world.   I can get this on my iPhone through the Pandora App.   How is cool is that.

Reading the Pandora blog answers a couple of other questions in this learning cycle.

A successful blog provides more than the unusual, weird, or human interest stories, a successful blog provides something of value to the reader.  In the case of the Pandora blog, not only can you get news about the company, but you also can read about a really cool project – namely the cataloging of 20 million songs in their music genome project.

A successful blog also is updated regularly.  In lean we call that a pitch.   The Pandora blog is updated at least weekly.

A blog also might offer advertising.  However, the key here is to advertise tastefully, and to not go crazy with a lot of real estate offer to advertising.  In the case of the Pandora site, the reserve one spot on their blog to donate to their charity.

We are getting to the end of learning cycle 1.  Stay tuned as we continue on our journey.


Learning Cycle 1 continued

Learning cycles, or rapid bursts of learning, help the innovator to frame an innovation problem.  An innovation is needed when you set-up a gap in your mind between the current situation and what needs to be solved.  Or stated as a problem, what you need but don’t have, or have but don’t want.

Recently, our friend John shared a story with a group of us that the Hubble II telescope was envisioned years before it went into orbit with technologies that did not yet exist.  The telescope required 10 new innovations to technical problems that were identified, but had never before been solved.  These innovations were the gaps that needed to be solved.  Learning cycles help to rapidly close the predefined gaps.  A learning cycle is a rapid cycle to move through the following stages: Planning, Design, Building (or prototyping), Testing, and Reviewing the Results.

In our simple illustration in this blog, we set-up a gap (not a terrible technically challenging one – just new to us) of setting up a blog about innovation and lean development.  We are initially just writing about the process of discovery that we are going through.

In learning cycle 1, several questions were stated.   Next the tasks are defined to answer each question.

Regard the question of what tool to use … we create a plan to answer this rapidly.  Several people were consulted about which blog tool to use.  We also did some research by reading the book Sociable! by Shane Gibson and Stephen Jagger.  Many options exist from self-created and added to a custom web page to one built by a web developer.  All recommendations pointed to WordPress, however, the recommendation also includes creating your own web presence.  So for us, the solution involved building this WordPress blog spot and linking it to our permanent web address.  The test was to prototype and start using it.


Learning Cycle 1 Getting Started with Blogging

Development objectives are clearly stated as problem statements, and today our first learning cycle objective is “getting started with blogging when you are new to the blogosphere“.  Since we are new to blogging, we knew that the first objective would have a number of hurdles to overcome.  In this learning cycle, we broke the objective of getting started into several questions.

  1. What is the correct blogging tool?
  2. What are the elements of a successful blog?
  3. How dynamic does a blog need to be?
  4. How do you add value by blogging?

Learning cycles are designed to discover something unknown (in this case blogging).  The discovery process is called a “heuristic” process.  Something is “heuristic” problem solving when you do not know the outcome, and you don’t know yet how to get there.  The important elements of setting up a learning cycle are to accurately state the problem and then to ask the right questions which you will then research and answer.

Learning Cycles and Learning about Blogging

We (Mark Swets and Tim Schipper) have written a book (Innovative Lean Development) which is about applying learning cycles and lean principles to the discovery process in Product and IT Development. Our intent is to apply learning cycles to learn about blogging.  Learning cycles are rapid bursts of learning to accelerate the development of something new and innovative.  They can be applied to create new solutions, services, products, business models, etc.  The intent of learning cycles is to speed up the discovery process.   Since blogging is a new area for us, we thought, “Hey, why not apply learning cycles to the development of our own blog.”

So this is the start of our journey.  For the initial series of entries, we are going to write about learning cycles and how we are using them to learn how to blog.  We hope you find it interesting and valuable, and we are interested in your thoughts and ideas.