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Interoperability: The Human Dimension of Design Excellence

by Timothy Schipper
February 10, 2016 | 1 Comment | Post a Comment | Permalink

Did you know only 51 percent of new product development efforts are meeting schedules, and a mere 56 percent meet profit objectives? 

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Facts are:

  • There is a crisis in development methodologies. And even worse, recently there have been a rash of product recalls.
  • The media has bombarded us with stories of defects and dangers that pose a huge threat to the individuals using the products, and an equally huge cost to the companies who sell and support the products.   
  • The best intentions of design teams often do not meet all of today’s design challenges.

The methods and tools of lean product and process development (LPPD) are important, useful, and essential in addressing these major problems in new development efforts. However, they are not the only things required to achieve robust and high-quality designs. A missing element might be called the dimension of interoperability. Interoperability is the human dimension of lean development, similar to the “respect for people” emphasis we are familiar with.

Webster defines interoperability as “the ability of a system to work with or use the parts or equipment of another system.” This has both a physical and human dimension to it. If systems were strictly physical, then computers would be designing, manufacturing, and shipping products on their own. However, we know that the best designs require interoperability across both the system and the human designers.

We all appreciate systems that work with unity and harmony. We see it in the symphony - the entire orchestra stays perfectly in-tune and operates as one under the direction of the master conductor. We see it when each member in the jazz combo plays their own intricate part yet fits their instrument together with the others in amazing and unexpected melodic lines. We see it in a perfectly harmonized architectural masterpiece. We sense good interoperability – and we also sense when it is missing. 

We recognize when interoperability is missing from a design effort when: 

  • Deadlines are missed
  • Subsystems don’t work well within the whole
  • The needs of users are missed from day one
  • Rework appears late in the process
  • Team cooperation is missing
  • Leadership is reactive 

When these human elements of interoperability are missing, we end up burning out teams and failing to meet the targets of the design.

The product development leader who focuses on the human dimensions and system interoperability has a higher rate of success. We understand that a sports team doesn’t excel unless there is teamwork and a great leader/coach; and development teams are no different. The same study that found the 51 percent failure rate in development efforts shows that when leaders are appropriately engaged, the success rate significantly increases.

The lean product and process development community should embrace the challenge of exploring the human dimension of interoperability within systems and between teams. It’s another step forward in our pursuit of an improved development process. 

Is interoperability present in your design efforts?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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1 Comment | Post a Comment
Steve Cropp February 15, 2016

I'd be interested in more information about the study mentioned, can you post a link or provide a reference?  Thanks



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