Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Improving the Process of New Product Development

One of the biggest single advantages for Lean Thinkers is to turn the thinking toward product development. Usually, it is the shop floor that carries the company for the first year or two of the journey. As a Chemist by trade, I naturally turned my attention next to the process of new PROCESS Development. (I used to think it was Product Development, but I learned). 

I was fascinated by about how Toyota developed new models. First, there is the story cited in The Toyota Way (Liker) about how the Toyota mini-van was developed. Teams of Engineers were sent to the United States to live with American families for months on end. They learned what the terrain was like. They learned how soccer moms transport their kids and neighbors to soccer games. They learned Americans like to load sheet rock or plywood into the back of their vehicles at Home Depot. They learned that Americans like to eat and drink in their vehicles (they didn't do that in Japan). The majority of development time was spent figuring out exactly what to make. No assumptions. No guesses. This, my friends is the practice of nemawashi (proceed slowly, consider all options, gain consensus, then implement rapidly. 

I contrasted this thinking to what my experience has been as a Chemist, a formulator, and later as Director of Research & Development.  New product development projects were top secret. The result was sometimes a product in search of a market instead of a market in search of a product. If we made it slow, customers wanted it fast. If we made it green, they wanted red. Our salespeople didn't always eagerly charge out into the field to sell the new stuff. Better to wait to let others work the bugs out. 

I began to study the thinking of the late Dr. Allen Ward, who developed much of the technical content concerning the principles of the Toyota Product Development System. Our entire technical staff read Michael Kennedy's book "Product Development for the Lean Enterprise" (which contains a foreword by Dr. Ward), one chapter per week with a weekly review and discussion. We began to think of new product development as new process development (development of the entire value cycle, from suppliers to the plant to customers). 10 "stages" were established, and the first 4 were about understanding what to make (nemawashi). Fail fast and fail cheap. Gain consensus before moving to the next stage. Leverage your diversity. Consider many options. Think about features and benefits and not technical jargon. As with every aspect of lean, we developed a laser-like focus on what the customer wants badly and will pay extra for.    

If you are not 100% happy with YOUR process of new product development, please consider applying the concepts of A3 and nemawashi. From my own experience, our customers got true innovation, were delighted, and willingly paid more. If I can help you with the groundwork for this let me know. It is one of the most fun legs of my lean journey.

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