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“Too much, Too early” and other Common Pitfalls of Lean Product Development

by Eric Ethington, Chet Marchwinski & Matt Zayko
June 29, 2020

“Too much, Too early” and other Common Pitfalls of Lean Product Development

by Eric Ethington, Chet Marchwinski & Matt Zayko
June 29, 2020 | Comments (2)

Veteran product development coaches Eric Ethington and Matt Zayko each have decades helping companies in a variety of industries apply the principles of Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD). Both are also LPPD coaches at the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI).

Previously, Eric managed a corporate team responsible for supporting lean management transformation at auto supplier Delphi's six divisions. Matt worked in a variety of staff and management level roles under the guidance of former Toyota mentors for Chrysler, the University of Michigan, Gelman Sciences, Delphi, and Danaher.

Here they provide insights into the most common mistakes they see companies make when implementing LPPD. They also offer practical tips for how you can get better results from LPPD efforts. To begin, they briefly explain what is the purpose of LPPD. They were interviewed by LEI Communications Director Chet Marchwinski.

Q: What is the purpose of Lean Product and Process Development or LPPD?

Matt: The roots go back to Al Ward who wrote the book Lean Product and Process Development published by LEI. About 25 years ago, Al was a pioneer in the product development space studying development at Toyota. He talked about the purpose of development as being the creation of profitable operational value streams and useful knowledge. This differed from just looking at development as product design or tests and analysis. So LPPD was a holistic viewpoint development that included product and processes.

Eric:We've come to look at LPPD as a model line for the enterprise. What I mean is that a lot of organizations teach people about lean management by doing a model line out in the plant. This helps to “crack the egg” about how to do an enterprise transformation; instead of it being a theoretical discussion, the product is something that everybody can rally around to see how they contribute. So it really becomes this set of principles and practices that you use for creating enterprise transformation, useful knowledge, and profitable value streams.

“Too much too early” is where the risks are unknown with a process and decisions are made too early but have a big impact later on.Q: You both work with companies that are applying LPPD principles. What are the common failure modes that you see with Lean Product and Process Development?

Matt: We typically see three failure modes. One is what we call “too much too early,” which is where the risks are unknown with a process and decisions are made too early but have a big impact later on. Another failure mode is what we call “penny wise, pound foolish,” where at a functional level, maybe I'm sub-optimizing what I think is best for this operational value stream when we're designing it and it ends up being worse overall for the system. And then a third one is “too little too late,” where we try to get people involved with process development, but key decisions have been made and the train has left the station so it's too little too late at that point.

Eric: What I'd add goes back to this idea of profitable value streams. To do that, you need to get all the different functions collaborating. And a lot of times we don't see that happen. It might start in a particular functional area; they get the bug about LPPD and then that particular function stays out ahead of everybody and doesn't bring the organization along. And so you're defeating the purpose of a model line for an enterprise transformation.

Q: Can you each provide some tips on how people can have better success with collaboration?

Eric: Do it organically. I've seen organizations say, "Okay, we're going to get all 15 functions – or whatever the number is – and we're going to put them all in a room and say, 'Okay, collaborate.'" And most of them don't. They have no idea what they're supposed to do.

So maybe there is a small critical mass of folks who at least have an understanding or inkling of what this could be, and they start working together and as they're approaching a decision point or something that's critical, start thinking, “Well who should we get involved to get through this next phase and pull them in?” Because now they have a purpose, a reason to be there, and the team grows organically.

Matt: You don't want to try to boil the ocean in an organization. Pick something that's real and get started as soon as possible. But many organizations think that they have to wait for the perfect time to pick something. But you can pick something that's in process. And then to build off that collaboration, typically we try to spin that to an obeya space where we talk about transparency of the work that needs to be done. So you can do that with the development team by doing a timeline on a wall to get focus and then that leads to better collaboration.

Q: Why don't we explain briefly what obeya is.

Matt: Obeya is just a Japanese word for big room, typically a room for visual management where you look a customer wall, a timeline wall, key metrics to show if you're ahead or behind, as well as a problem solving wall. It's a space where there are no secrets and everything with the development program is visual.

Keep Learning:

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The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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2 Comments | Post a Comment
Jaime Maricoy Cruz July 04, 2020

The article is really interesting ...

I am left with the failure "Too match too earley" because finally one of the criteria that we must have is when we have enough information to make the right decisions ...

Thank you very much

Jaime Marcoy

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Durward Sobek July 17, 2020
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Great insights from experience! To encourage collaboration, I would offer that management can play a central role when they ask targeted questions that prompt people to reach out across organizational boundaries.  "That looks like a promising idea. Have you talked to so-and-so in manufacturing to see how it would impact their work?"  After repeating that same question, people will start reaching out on their own initiative so they can answer the question better!

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