Preston Smith's Corner

What is lean product development?

December 2005 Quick Tip

This term confuses me. Fortunately, lean development consultant Katherine Radeka of Whittier Consulting Group has brought us some clarity. She interviewed 42 experts in the lean product development community and discovered that there are five basic varieties of lean development:

  • Lean design, design for six sigma, and design for lean manufacturing, which ensure that new products are designed to fit with lean manufacturing.
  • Direct applications of lean manufacturing tools to product development, especially value stream mapping to eliminate waste and improve flow, 5S, and kaizen events.
  • Direct applications of Toyota’s product development practices, which differ fundamentally both from lean manufacturing and from conventional product development practices, especially in using A3 reports, set-based design, knowledge reuse, and chief engineers.
  • A principles-based approach, which abstracts ideas from the spectrum of lean literature and integrates them with “best” practices in product development to create a system of lean product development. This system differs radically from the product development practices of most companies today.
  • Those who re-label “best” practices in product development as “lean” because they appear to eliminate waste, thus exploiting the lean label as a marketing tool. They use the label without a deep understanding of lean principles or a systemic approach.

Radeka observed that few of those she interviewed fit completely into one category (none in the last one). The differences usually stem from differing backgrounds and experiences in manufacturing, design, or product development.

Consequently, if you suspected that “lean” hadn’t jelled in product development as it has in manufacturing, now you know why.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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