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Lean Product Development

Many of you will be familiar with 'Lean' in a manufacturing or transactional environment. However have you thought about applying lean principles to product development?

Well some people have, but the all seem to put a different slant on it, causing a bit of confusion, as when one person says 'Lean Product Development' he means one thing, but when someone else says it, he means something different.

The problem is that just applying Lean Manufacturing procedures to Product Development does not work too well. The reason is that whereas manufacturing (once set up) is a controlled pseudo-steady state environment with known outcomes from known inputs (or at least it should be), development is transient, with unknown outcomes. In other words you don't know whether a particular design will perform how you want it to until you test it in some way, and of course it may fail, causing a redesign.

However everyone agrees that the aim is to make the product development process as efficient as possible. It is just that they emphasis different approaches and other aims, such as customer focus and manufacturability.

The three most common variants of Lean Product Development are:

Lean Product Development (TDS - Toyota Development System)

This is based on Toyota's Product Development System, as opposed to the Toyota Production System (TPS), of which many people are familiar, and which started the lean craze. It was first studied and written about by the late Allen Ward in his book Lean Product and Process Development, published in 2007 (A 2nd Edition is now available that has been updated by Durward Sobek), and explained in a slightly more readable form by Mike Kennedy et al in 'Ready, Steady, Dominate' and by Dantar Oosterwal in 'The Lean Machine'.

At the heart of the Toyota System is Knowledge. If you know what you are doing (and are correct), you will be more efficient, and if you don't know what to do (i.e. what the optimum design will be), then the first thing you should do is find out. Thus I prefer to call this Knowledge-Based Engineering (KBE).

For more information see Knowledge-Based Engineering

Lean Product Development Flow, developed by Don Reinertsen

In his first books 'Developing Products in Half the Time' & 'Managing the Design Factory' Don Reinertson introduced us to the importance of Rapid Product Development, and in particular the concept of 'Cost of Delay' - a method to put a price on programme delays, by factoring in the lost opportunity cost.

In Manufacturing Lean, (and also Theory of Constraints) the concept of Flow is an important one.  Don Reinertsen has incorporated this idea into his theory of Lean Product Development, by utilising Queueing Theory, and Batch Sizes amongst other things to show us how to obtain maximum flow thorough the Product Development process, and hence increase efficiency and minimise the cost of delay. Personally to distinguish his ideas from others, I like to give them the title Rapid Product Development.

For more information see Rapid Product Development

Lean Design, developed by Sandy Munro of Munro Associates

The primary focus is this version is producing an efficient design, i.e. one that can be made cheaply and assembled easily, rather than an efficient design process. To do this it combines the principles of Value Engineering and DFMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly)

For more information see Value Engineering & DFMA

Other Forms of Lean Product Development

Other authors have also written about Lean Product Development, all with their own particular 'take' on the subject, such as Ron Mascitelli and Bart Huthwaite.

At Elite Consulting we are familiar with all these different strands of thinking and choose the most appropriate aspects from each to suit the client, culture, industry and products, as we are not trying to sell a particular version of Lean.

Contact us to discuss Lean Product Development in your company.

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