What is LEAN Development?
Several people recently asked me independent from each other, “What is lean development all about?” And as I read, study, and explore the topic, the word system keeps coming to the forefront of my brain. And the word system informs the definition of lean development.
Lean development is the application of a set of methods and techniques that work together to create a system that optimizes value and reduces wastes across the entire life cycle of the system.
So if that is the definition, what images come to mind?
First of all, we need to think of things as systems. The automobile with all of its components is a system. It is made up of multiple subsystems from the engine, the transmission, the steering, braking, environmental comfort, computer, etc. All of the systems have to work together. A design process that is lean seeks to create a system that provides the most value with the least amount of waste. Value can be measured by attributes such as affordability or maintainability. Wastes can be measured by things that detract from the value such as complexity or danger. For instance, complexity often makes the auto less maintainable, or at the least more costly to maintain. Designs that provide the most value with the smallest amount of wastes built into them are the most desirable. And for a complex system like an automobile, each sub-system must also be optimized for value and minimized for waste.
The automobile is a product system. But there are many systems. A hospital is a system. A building is a system. A business is a system. The manufacturing process is a system. Even your finances are a system. The list goes on and on.
Other images that comes to mind are systems from nature. Nature is filled with systems. A tree is a system. Our bodies are a system. A lake or stream is a system. A habitat is a system. A collection of animals is a system. When multiples of these come together, we give them a special name – an ecosystem. In the grand design of nature, our creator placed us in an amazing set of systems. Everything from the solar system we live in, to this planet, to the ground we use to create food, to our communities; each is a system that provides infinite possibilities and usefulness. And each system has a very optimized design. So some of the best examples of designs that are lean come from nature. And, nature’s efficient systems can be placed in our own man-made designs.
Second, lean development seeks to optimize the value in the system. Values are the things that the end user or customer needs or wants. Lean development also utilizes an integrated product team to find best ways to increase the values in the system. Lean development also thinks about the value of the system over its entire life, from beginning to end, from creation to disposal and recycled into something new. In the ideal system, everything works together. If things are not working together, or competing with each other, then the system breaks down. If we think of our bodies in this way, we all know that all of the parts of the system must work together. If any individual part of our bodies isn’t working, well the whole system fails. We can echo the psalmist who said, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Third, lean development seeks to minimize the wastes that are built into the system, or might creep into the system overtime. Some wastes start out in the system. Computer systems might have software bugs or viruses. Once they enter the system, or are exposed, they can create a lot of havoc. The automobile might have a poor quality part in a critical system that causes the whole system to fail.
As practitioners of the discipline of Lean Development, we are attempting to create Lean Products and Processes through the application of lean thinking. We do that through a series of tools and techniques. Some of them borrowed from lean manufacturing, and others from various design disciplines. But, the tools are a means to an end. The ultimate goal of lean development is to create the best system possible.
Here is an example to bring it all together:
The headlights in the VW Beetle (or call it the headlight system) is not a design that follows lean principles. The headlights stay on at all times, which is a great safety feature that probably saves lives (value), but the replacement of the bulb is very complex because the whole headlight system must be removed to replace the bulb which is very difficult to do (waste). On one side, the battery must be removed to access the headlight canister (complexity). My regular mechanic won’t even touch the thing, and I have to take it to the dealer who charges a fair amount (waste) to replace the bulb which costs just a few dollars. Since the replacement now requires an appointment at the dealer, the repair is delayed (waste). The fact that the headlights stay on all the time is a great feature (value), but the fact that the bulbs have to be changed more often at a higher cost is a huge annoyance (waste over the entire life cycle). Overall, the increased safety is still worth the hassle and cost, but with a little more attention to designing out the wastes, the team of engineers (obviously not an integrated product team) could have created a design that is lean from the start.
The Huthwaite Innovation Institute’s Annual Mackinac Island summit is in its 20th year. The dates are August 13 through 15, 2013. This unique gathering brings together a select group of top executives for two and a half days of networking and work group sessions designed to foster the exchange of ideas and innovations covering the top obstacles implementing designs that are lean corporate wide. Executives will have the opportunity to further establish best practices for design through peer collaboration and executive education in a fun and relaxed environment.
At the end of the summit, you will know how to:
- Make innovation a sustainable management process, rather than a random event
- Integrate innovation into your existing continuous improvement initiatives
- Measure whether you are on the right track early enough to make course corrections
- Use innovation to find new market opportunities
- Apply innovation to improve your day-to-day business operations.
- Get all ‘stakeholders’ on board from Day One. . . and keep them on board
- Systematically go outside your corporate boundaries to discover new ideas
- Enable teams to innovate without creating chaos, delay, and low morale
Benefits of Attending:
Participation will enable the implementation of lean techniques for design within your organization. Participants will hear powerful “lessons learned” from other companies and will have the opportunity to share their successes and obstacles. We will discuss the greatest challenges implementing and lean system, and how companies are addressing those issues.
Development problems and making designs lean
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.
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.
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.
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.