Lean product development might mean different things to different organizations; however, we can start with the 5 principles of lean and apply it to product development enterprise. The principles of lean are:

  • Specify Value
  • Identify the Value Stream
  • Establish Flow
  • Make Value Flow at the Pull of the Customer
  • Continuously Eliminate Waste

Using these principles, our goal statement for a lean product development value stream can be summarized as follows:

“Develop products that maximize customer value and minimize product cost, in the least amount of time, and at the least amount of product development cost.”

What makes this complicated is product development determines project value/cost, product value/cost, and manufacturing process value/cost. This also highlights the critical importance of the product development process.

Using the lean product development goal statement above, we can derive some high-level objectives as follows:

  • Better understand the customer (maximize customer value)
  • Do the right projects (perform product, project and portfolio value analysis)
  • Do projects right (minimize redesign, waste and rework)
  • Level load the organization (minimize bottlenecks and resource constraints)
  • Create and re-use artifacts (standardize and sustain best practices)

These might be considered “enterprise” level objectives…some or all of the objectives might be part of a product development organizational strategy depending on the type and/or quantity of development projects.

Let us start by listing lean objectives based on the number of product development projects:

More projects generally require more governance and management, including managing resources across projects.

Several elements of lean are apparent:

  • follow a disciplined product development and project management process (standard work)
  • reduce bottlenecks by effectively managing resources
  • eliminate rogue projects-cancel projects that no longer make business sense
  • reduce work-effort on the wrong projects

Note an element of ‘slowing-down-to-go-faster’ here….investing work-effort into project governance to achieve significant savings, and enable more valuable projects to be completed faster.

A tailored approach would also consider the type of product development project. A project goal might be to demonstrate a minimum viable product (perhaps a start-up company) or pursue complete product commercialization. The graphic below provides some suggested lean product development objectives and initiatives accordingly.

A development process, with the ultimate goal of product commercialization, might place more emphasis on reducing design risk, design optimization & manufacturability.

This brings us to our final category of enabling lean: making good business decisions. Investing in a product or project is ultimately a business decision that can be improved with financial estimating and analysis. Here again, we consider the type of product development project and emphasize customer value, product cost and project cost.

A business decision priority for demonstrating a minimum viable product might include(as a minimum)ensuring corresponding value to the customer. Meanwhile, a more comprehensive product/project financial analysis is more appropriate for many (or larger) projects going through complete commercialization.

Lean product development approaches are scalable based on several factors; a company may perform some project retrospectives, perform an internal survey or assessment, or begin with some awareness of tools and methodologies. Do you have too many projects? Projects that weren’t ultimately successful? Resource constraints? High risk of design rework? Sub-optimized designs? Inadequate product margins? Difficult-to-manufacture products? The most effective and beneficial elements of lean enterprise product development could then be down-selected.

For example, a start-up might benefit from a technical project manager who can help facilitate a lean process and focus the team on maximizing customer value. This is a fundamental role and objective applicable to almost any product development effort.

As the number of projects increases and/or the objectives of the product development organization change, the needs change accordingly. With several projects, an organization might benefit from a project portfolio management, governance process and team structure enabled by a product life cycle process.

There are likely many opportunities to streamline your product development process, contact Product Realization Group for an initial consultation.