Category Archives: Uncategorized

Duke’s Coach K’s Secret to Leadership Success

Duke’s Coach K’s Secret to Leadership Success.  This is a worthwhile read.   I often use the story of coach K in my lean workshops.


The Menlo Experience – Bringing Joy to Work

I recently visited Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, MI.  It was a fantastic experience.  I had heard Menlo CEO Rich Sheridan speak at a LPPDE conference last year, and as soon as I heard him, I knew that I should go and visit this amazing organization.

Menlo Innovations is a company that develops custom software for other companies and organizations.  It is named after another innovative organization… Thomas Edison’s labs in Menlo Park, NJ.   It is a relatively young company at just 14 years old, but it has been recognized and awarded many, many times.  They are a small company compared to many others with about 60 employees.  But they have created a breakthrough in software development.  And besides their revolutionary development practices, they have transformed their culture.    You can read about this company in the book written by their CEO, Rich Sheridan, who was also our host for the day.


Joy Inc. by Menlo CEO Richard Sheridan

He talked to extensively about the principles to put Joy in the workplace.  They have hosted 300 companies just this year who have traveled to Ann Arbor to see Menlo first hand.

Here is a list of the Menlo awards in the past two years.


  • WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™
  • Inc.’s 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America (Inc. Magazine)
  • 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For – Metro Detroit
  • When Work Works Award (formerly known as Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility)
  • Michigan Economic Bright Spots (Corp! Magazine)
  • Gold Breastfeeding Friendly Award (Washtenaw County Breastfeeding Coalition)


  • Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Flexibility (When Work Works)
  • Leaders Everywhere Challenge (Management Innovation eXchange)
  • Technology 200 (Lead 411)
  • The Washtenaw Soul Award (Washtenaw Indie Awards – Think Local First)
  • Michigan Economic Bright Spots (Corp! Magazine)
  • WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces™, Community Voted Top Practice: Integrity
  • Silver Breastfeeding Friendly Award (Washtenaw County Breastfeeding Coalition)

They have changed the way I thought about space, visuals, the development process, and the culture of work.

They have mastered agile software methods and applied many, many concepts that could be called “lean” in their workplace.

Every week they go through a development cycle, or what would be referred to asa Rapid Learning Cycle in Product Development or a Sprint in Information Technology

That means that each week they plan, create unit tests, write code in “pairs”, run thousands of units tests, perform QA testing, and review the software with their clients.   That is a one week development cycle!  They do this as a common practice every week of the year.

That is significant.   Most companies go through very long development cycles that take weeks if not months.

They do all of this in a 40 hour work week, and they do it without anyone working any overtime.  They don’t use email internally and have practically no internal meetings.

How they do it would take pages to describe.  I highly recommend reading the book.

Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love

.   So for now, here is their story in pictures.

They go through a weekly planning game where the content of the projects are planned out for the next week.


The Planning Game

The space is open, but works very well and has less noise than you would imagine. (There is a hard floor, but lots of sound baffles in the ceiling above the lights).


The big open room at Menlo

The individual workers reconfigure the space by moving the light weight aluminum tables, and they do so every week per the needs of the project work.

They use visuals on all the walls and columns to show planned work and the status of work. They have the ultimate Lean Office.

They work using a method called “paired programming” to enhance quality and speed learning.


Paired Programming

There is one scheduled meeting per day.   A stand-up meeting that everyone participates in.


Meno Standup Meeting

It happens each morning at 10:00 am and lasts for no more than 15 minutes.

Here the team doing the work is meeting with the customer/client to review the development from the last week.  The space was reconfigured on the fly for this purpose.


The customer is at the keyboard… not the programmers!

There is so much more to write and tell about.  Everything is quite different: How they estimate and plan.   How they use High-Tech Anthropology to uncover user behavior and requirements.  How they use artifacts in the workplace to signal and trigger activities.  How they cross train and move from project to project every week.  How they have broken down towers of knowledge.

I suggest you make the effort to read about it, go and hear Rich Goebel or James Sheridan from Menlo speak, or even take a trip to Ann Arbor, Mi for one of their tours.

And yes… they do allow babies and dogs in the work place.  Here is Rich Sheridan petting Rusty who is a very friendly dog!


Menlo CEO Rich Sheridan pets Rusty.

Speaking for all of us have gone and seen the environment, I know that we are all eager to “run the experiment” to put Joy in our own workplaces.


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.

Trademark discovery leads to rename to Lean Development Excellence blog

I recently was alerted to the fact that two words lean and design when put together is protected.  “Lean Design ®” is copyrighted and patented by Munro & Associates, of Michigan.


Of course, many brands have a trademark.  Everything from famous colas to a very famous mouse from a certain theme park.  Trademarks are a part of business today.   And, they can remain in effect basically indefinitely, as long as the company that owns the trademark continues to keep it registered.  Newly registered trademarks are valid for 10 years.  Trademarks can be renewed for additional 10-year terms, and there is no limit to the number of times a trademark can be renewed, as long as use of the mark by its owner continues.

In order to comply with their trademark, the name of this blog has changed to Lean Development Excellence.

You will find that many of these entries on this blog have been change to remove the words and replace them with other words or phrases.  So  you will find phrases like:

Lean product design

Lean healthcare design

Lean process design

Design for lean development

Design for lean manufacturing

Lean development


All of these have been used where appropriate to avoid the trademark issues, but also to better describe the intent of the entries.

Finally, the Wikipedia article has now been changed to Design for lean manufacturing, which more accurately reflects the nature of the article.

I hope the readers of the blog find the changes helpful and ultimately more helpful for describing the topics shared on this blog.

Lean development for Washington hospital

Lean can be applied to the design any type of system, even a large system like a hospital.

Lean is a trend now in the design of space for architecture.   Many architects are starting  to apply lean manufacturing principles of waste reduction and flow to the internal processes inside of hospitals, but now lean is being applied to the design of the space itself.

Lean in design seeks to solve design problems by maximizing value and minimizing the drivers of waste.

As flow improves … excess space can be saved.

Everett Clinic

As wastes are removed … space becomes more efficient.

As the space  becomes efficienct …  space layout and footprint reductions can be achieved.

And with a reduction in footprint … more cost effective structures can be built.

In writing about one such project,  of the  Puget Sound Business Journal notes, 

Much has been made about the “lean” approach to health care: efforts to eliminate waste and streamline day-to-day operations to make treatment cheaper, faster and better quality.  Now architecture and design firms are finding ways to build environments that support maximum efficiency.  That move has helped drive another trend in hospital architecture – lean design.”  from Hospital design follows “lean” trend for more efficiency, comfort March 4, 2013.  Similarly, in the architectural interpretation of this movement, new designs are trying to reduce waste – whether it’s wasted steps, overcrowding, or otherwise – and improve the human experience.

According to ZGF Architects, the lean design of the Everett Clinic Smokey Point Medical Center contributes to a 24 percent reduction in non-patient care space yielding $2.1 million in savings and a 30 percent reduction in the number of exam rooms (from 82 to 62 right-sized rooms).

Lean seeks to eliminate wastes from the design from the start.   The idea is to seek out the drivers of waste and remove them from the design.

In the Everett Clinic, variability is reduced because every operating room is standardized with the same layout,  and complexity is removed by having the same equipment set-up for surgery in the same way in each operating room.  These are just two of the seven techniques for designing out waste.

To drive out complexity architects can ask questions like:

  • Are there parts of the space and process that are obviously overly complex?
  • What parts of the space or process are hard to use for the nurses and doctors?
  • Does my space have any unnecessary things in it?
  • What do people complain about the most in existing spaces?

To drive out variability architects can ask questions like:

  • Is the process in the space difficult to maintain and control?
  • Can the space be improved to reduce variations?
  • Can the space be standardized to reduce variation?

The other drivers of waste are precision, sensitivity, immaturity, danger, and skill intensive tasks.

Explore this blog to learn more of the techniques to apply lean to the design of solutions in architecture and space design.   And please contact us if this has been helpful  by leaving a comment to this blog.

Book Review: The Mastery of Innovation


The Mastery of Innovation: A Field Guide to Lean Product Development


Author: Katherine Radeka


Publication Date: 2013 CRC Press

Mastery of Innvoation

Book Description: What’s the key message?



Katherine Radeka’s book is an exploration in the emerging field of Lean Product Development.   Radeka notes that companies need to get their ideas to market faster, develop more of their ideas into products, and smoothly move them into production, with lower life-cycle costs.


The contents come from Radeka’s “going to the gemba” and observing actual lean product development at various companies.  She started that journey in 2005, after leaving Hewlett Packard, and traveling throughout North America, and she continues to do this today as a consultant.  Her recent journeys have extended throughout Europe.



Radeka characterizes development as “systematically solving problems to maximize values and minimize waste across the entire system.”  This is, at its core, what the broader topic of lean design is all about.  The original concept of the keeping problem solving back at the core of product development was taught by the University of Michigan professor Dr. Allen Ward.   He called the problem solving method in development the LAMDA cycle; where LAMDA is a mnemonic for the steps in the problem solving method – Look, Ask, Model, Discuss, and Act.  Dr. Ward also taught the benefits of documenting knowledge in the form of trade-off curves.


Radeka briefly explains how to determine value and spot wastes in the product development cycle.  Then she teaches about the four value producing streams in development which are the customer value stream, the product design and test value stream, the production value stream, and the one the encompasses the other three – the knowledge creation value stream.



The remainder and bulk of the book describes how various companies have pioneered the principles of Lean Product Development.  The companies include DJO, Scania Technical Centre, Ford Motor Company, Buckeye Technologies, Steelcase, Philips, Novo Nordisk, Visteon, A-dec, Nielsen-Kellerman, Vaisala, and Playworld Systems.  Each of these companies has embraced the idea of placing lean problem solving and lean principles at the heart of the development systems.



What are the highlights? What works?


Radeka gives some excellent and current examples of companies who are applying lean in product development.  The upfront material gives the reader a quick overview of the lean concepts that apply to development.   The examples that follow are rich and detailed, and they will give the reader a closer look at how companies are exploring the application of lean principles inside of their product development functions.


What are the weaknesses? What’s missing?


Since the book is mostly case studies of implementations in lean development, it does not give the theory of lean design or an in-depth study of the concepts and principles of lean in development.   Instead, Radeka’s intent is to share real-world examples of how lean concepts have been applied in companies all over the world.  The reader will have to apply the ideas and examples in the book to their own development organization.  Radeka does not go into depth on LAMDA learning cycles or the documentation of knowledge in the form of trade-off curves (per Ward) since those topics can be found in Allen Ward’s book Lean Product and Process Development and are explored by Schipper and Swets in Innovative LEAN Development.  While she gives many examples, she does not critique them or comment on how effective they are in producing results at the companies.


How should I read this to get the most out of it?


The examples are very rich in detail, and there are many ideas to glean from these pages.  Therefore, a great way to read this book is to share this with others in the development organization, and even to offer to make it a book study with the product development leadership and teams.  The development organization can then collectively discuss how the best in class examples could be adopted or adapted to their own methods.

Timothy Schipper

Lean Design Excellence Coach

Author of Innovative LEAN  Development







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

Lean Development: Spotting the Wrong Questions

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.”

This quote came to me from John Maxwell. 

 It reminds me of why we are looking for Knowledge Gaps and writing A3’s in Lean Development.  Ultimately, we are just making sure that the right questions are being asked and spotting the wrong questions.  We are attempting to expose the things that we don’t know. 

 The exercise of writing Knowledge A3’s in Lean Development is meant to help us spot the wrong questions and in fact it goes a step further.  It helps us ask the right questions, and then it points us to think about who can help us get the answers to the questions.   This is what we do in the LOOK and ASK steps of LAMDA (the steps that Al Ward identified for Rapid Learning Cycles).   We LOOK for questions to ask and then we think about who we should ASK.  If we aren’t ASKing the “people at the ground” (a.k.a. People at the Keyboards, SMEs, Users, etc.) who will be using the program or innovation we are developing, then we are not going far enough.  In Innovative Lean Development, this is described in the PLAN step of the Rapid Learning Cycle.

 By starting with the problem statement, or as we sometimes have called it – the central question, we can stretch our minds to wonder if we have asked the right questions about different aspects of the program.

 A corollary to Maxwell’s statement would be “An uncreative mind asks the right question at the wrong  time, but a creative mind asks the right question at the right  time.”

 So – I am not at all surprised when we need to put an A3 on hold, or take one through the initiate phase and set it aside until later.   We are simply identifying that it is too early to ask the questions yet.  But, it is so important to at least identify the questions.

 And here is something else to think about … the more questions and A3 writing that we do up front, the more complete the solution will be in the end.


Timothy Schipper,

Author – Innovative Lean Development


How long is too long for a development cycle?

Development cycles in many organizations last from many months to years. The challenge with long cycles is that requirements will shift and change over time. And if the customer’s need changes and the project doesn’t adjust, it will miss the mark. The goal is to make the development cycle nimble and quick. In order to do so, the cycle time is shortened to something quite short. These short bursts are called rapid learning cycles. They are constructed to be very short. In some cases just a few weeks or even days. This is how long a development cycle on any new system should be: just long enough to answer the impotant questions or generate a new piece of knowledge – and prototype a solution. To apply a rapid learning cycle, try dividing a larger project into short bursts of learning. This creates a faster pace and measureable progress for the team.

Learning Cycles and Design Thinking

I am reading Roger Martin‘s excellent book The Design of Business.  He talks about the need for companies to move through the knowledge funnel.  His knowledge funnel moves from

 mystery (asking what might be), to heuristic (discovery) and finally to algorithm (or repeatabili

ty).  Moving through the knowledge funnel requires the user to practice abductive reasoning, which is described as asking what “might be” as opposed to “what is”.

I found it very interesting that many of the same topics found in Roger Martin’s method also found their way into our book.  In Innovative Lean Development, Mark Swets and I talk about heuristic problem solving, and how to set up learning cycles to move from general ideas to something more concrete for the customer.   We showed our own learning cycle funnel.

Why is the concept of the funnel so important?  The concept is to have many ideas, or options, available to the team up front, and then weed them out.  The team will also refine requirements, moving from general ones to

more specific.   But, for the activity in the learning cycle, the team must have a structured way to create value and find the optimal solution.  Using learning cycle exposes the gaps in the product or solution space.  Learning cycles help to outline the questions and then focus the team’s direction in that ar

ea.  Learning cycles  become a tool to move from concept

s (mystery) through the other two phases of insight driven heuristics and algorithm .  The team can use learning cycles to expose the gaps in the problem, refining both the requirements and the product design.