The following is a guest post from Stephen Ruffa, author of Going Lean.
A growing number of organizations have turned to “lean” as a way of dealing with today’s challenging business environment, seeking to lower operating costs by targeting processing excesses–or waste. While doing so can offer near term savings, a deeper benefit is critically needed today: the ability for more smoothly introducing the kind of fresh, new products that inspire customers to buy in the first place.
How can going lean help in promoting greater product innovation? The answer comes from going back to its roots. Lean methods were developed decades ago by some of today’s most successful corporations as a means for overcoming volatile business conditions. By building in mechanisms for maintaining a smoother, more predictable flow of operations, information, and decision making in the face of even serious external challenges, they substantially dampen disruption–a major cause for waste to accumulate. These same mechanisms also streamline the introduction of new product designs by dampening variation and start-up problems that come from shifting to new procedures and configurations.
Why is this important? Developing products to make their transition into production speedier, less costly with far less operational uncertainty lowers the barriers to making more frequent product changes–a critical need for responding to today’s dynamic, competitive marketplace. However, doing so takes applying lean principles not as an add-on, but as part of a rigorous structure that progressively advances toward sustainable excellence that includes:
Demanding business transformation. Going lean takes a fundamental shift from traditional business practices, which goes beyond targeting continuous improvement efforts wherever waste is found. Instead, lean activities should be deliberately sequenced in a way that integrates product development, beginning with building a solid foundation for attaining substantial, lasting results.
Designing for dynamic stability. Lean product development includes practices intended to increase coordination between design disciplines and reduce product complexity–but its emphasis should extend further still. For instance, developing products in a way that leverages processing commonalities supports the fundamental lean objective of managing based on product families–a key to sustaining smooth flow even during uncertain and constantly changing business conditions.
Fostering a broadened span of insight. Implementing lean methods relies heavily on ideas and input from the workforce–however, it is important to first increase individuals’ span of insight to make their contributions most meaningful. In product development this might include restructuring roles to extend beyond traditional boundaries, enabling designers to better see what characteristics will make products easier to introduce into production–and to help with structuring production operations to become better suited to produce them.
Targeting new opportunities. Lean product development should include gaining a deep, specific understanding of customer needs, enabling organizations to better anticipate and respond to what customers want across the range of circumstances they might face–a key to promoting trust and gaining the insight for developing products and services offering the greatest value.
Stephen A. Ruffa is the author of Going Lean: How the Best Companies Apply Lean Manufacturing Principles to Shatter Uncertainty, Drive Innovation, and Maximize Profits and the upcoming The Going Lean Fieldbook: A Practical Guide to Lean Transformation and Sustainable Success. He is an aerospace engineer, researcher, and business consultant specializing in applying lean principles to overcome the challenges of dynamic business conditions. He is a winner of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing Research, and the author of Going Lean and The Going Lean Fieldbook.
And now for the GIVEAWAY! The first five commenters on this post will receive a free copy of Stephen Ruffa’s book Going Lean. Good luck!