Rethinking product development

Product development consultant Don Reinertsen is soon to return to the UK for two workshops, organised by Smallpeice Enterprise.

The workshops will cover two very distinct aspects of improving product development

Many companies, especially in the UK, have a dangerously distorted view of Lean Product Development, claims Don Reinertsen.  He believes that key misunderstandings are preventing companies from exploiting lean methods in product development, and even leading some companies to totally ignore this important new opportunity to improve performance. This is why one of his upcoming UK workshops*, to be held 3-4 March 2008, will focus exclusively on practical and economically justifiable approaches for adopting Lean Product Development.

His other, workshop* to be held on the 5-6 March 2008, will cover Rapid Product Development Techniques. As the title suggests, this will look in-depth at the tools and concepts that enable individual projects to achieve faster time to market. 

According to Reinertsen there is a clear distinction between the two topic areas, and hence the importance of both workshops. Rapid Product Development Techniques is primarily about the improvement approaches that are proven to reduce individual project cycle times, and which can be readily implemented by companies without making fundamental changes to the development process. Whereas, the Lean Product Development workshop is about understanding a fundamentally different way to think about and manage New Product Development (NPD); but one that can deliver far greater benefits.

As Reinertsen adds, Companies need to recognize the importance of Lean NPD, and the fact that it is the only approach that has the triple play potential to simultaneously improve, quality, efficiency and cycle time.

Crucially, Lean NPD also offers considerable credit along the way. When the principles are understood, relatively simple and straight forward changes in approach can deliver rapid improvements for all projects in the development process.


However, Reinertsen is concerned about how managers and engineers, especially in the UK, perceive Lean NPD. In particular, he sees two key misunderstandings that clearly need to be corrected within many businesses, if they are to understand and obtain the real benefits provided by lean methods. His workshop will in-part focus on these.

The first key misunderstanding is on the nature of waste in product development processes. According to Reinertsen, because the primary focus for much of Lean Manufacturing is the elimination of wasted expenses, many companies incorrectly assume that this is also the focus of Lean NPD. This causes two problems. First, some companies fail to even consider Lean NPD because they assume it is irrelevant if they have already squeezed out most of their inefficiencies. Second, other companies purse Lean NPD but they focus the majority of their efforts on wasted expenses, which is the most trivial aspect of Lean NPD. Instead, what managers have to recognise is that real benefits of Lean NPD come from creating flow. He states It is only by focusing on flow not wasted expenses that they can tap into the true potential of Lean NPD. 

The second key misunderstanding is that lean methods should be applied just as they were in manufacturing. Reinertsen argues that this view is dangerously misguided, and suggests that in terms of creating flow, manufacturing offers only a starting point, and not always a good one. He says, The Toyota Production System should be recognised for what it is; an effective method for achieving flow but for a very primitive problem, that of repetitive manufacturing. For more complex environments, such as product development, it only offers a starting point of thinking about flow not the pinnacle of achievement.

As the workshop will illustrate, by accepting that Lean NPD has to be about creating flow, and recognising the major differences between Manufacturing and Product Development, then it becomes obvious that there many other domains that have tackled the problem of creating flow in a variable process. And, as Reinertsen concludes, These domains are actually a better source of advanced ideas and methodologies, than the factory floor.

* Don Reinertsens first executive workshop, Lean Product Development, will be held on 3-4 March 2008. The second workshop, Rapid Product Development Techniques, will follow on the 5-6 March 2008. Both are organised by Smallpeice Enterprises and will be held at Studley Castle in the Midlands. 

About Smallpeice Enterprises

Based at its Design and Management Training Centre in Leamington Spa, Smallpeice Enterprises combines over 40 years of training experience with specialist industry focus, to provide a total training service for engineering and manufacturing companies worldwide.

Specialist programmes on key industry issues such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, Process Improvement and Product Development are complemented by an extensive range of scheduled public and private courses  (over 50 different courses on offer) covering Design Engineering, Quality, Lean Manufacturing, Project Management, CAD, Management Skills and Senior Management Insight Seminars. The options also include in-company bespoke training, which is customised specifically to individual companies requirements.


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