Successful entrepreneurs, whether they are lone figures toiling in garages or supporting new work at major companies, are rightly celebrated for creating hit products. But what if there were something better, much better than creating a product in isolation? What if, in fact, there was a system of thinking that supported the creation of entirely new value streams? And what if the path-breaking innovation was not limited to the product but encompassed all of the steps required to bring value to your customer, and even how it impacted the world? Just think of the potential.
This idea of course is one of the foundational elements of lean product and process development. “Creating profitable value streams” as the aim of lean product and process development (LPPD) was the insight of our late friend and colleague Allen Ward. It was one of many topics he, John Shook and I would discuss and debate over beers at Sidetracks while we were all at the University of Michigan. Al’s profound observation is so important because it demonstrates a deep understanding of the powerful thinking behind the LPPD System. In fact, it is the very essence of creating customer value because it requires that you consider every activity required to deliver that value from product concept through the end of its life cycle.
This comprehensive, and intentional developmental approach is just one of the elements that differentiates lean product and process development from other methods and I am especially eager for
those recently bitten by the “lean bug” to graduate to this way of thinking.
So, what to do with this profound insight about seeing beyond one product, and instead thinking through the creation of profitable value streams? This was just one of many challenges I faced as I wrapped up my research and headed back to the daily grind of creating new products and processes in the real world.
While I was at Ford, one of the most useful concepts we developed in thinking about value stream creation was (and is) “Compatibility before Completion” (CbC). It is the fundamental idea that designs must be compatible with the all system and value stream requirements before they are completed and released. It was originally intended as a powerful countermeasure to late-breaking development issues and subsequent spikes in engineering changes brought on by an unhealthy obsession with individual design release speed – and it was! But it turned out to be so much more.
By leveraging the CbC concept we built critical compatibility checks into our development system. This progressive series of checks contained demonstrable requirements timed to match the maturity level of the design at the appropriate point in the development process. You must be careful not to waste time evaluating premature and unstable data too soon – it’s just going to change. But you should definitely not wait until after designs are complete and drive rework. In this way they make up a series of JIT deliveries for development work.
Some typical areas that benefit from such checks include manufacturing requirements, product serviceability, product installation, product and process environmental footprint implications, and setup for aftermarket products. Each of these have their own series of progressive checks. It is a powerful, customer-centered, eco-systemized way of thinking that encourages the team to collaborate as they think through the entire value stream.
Many companies, such as Toyota and Ford, employ the CbC concept in their value stream creation efforts. They both make extensive use of virtual reality, simulation and standards to drive manufacturing Bill of Process alignment to help ensure product quality and manufacturing efficiency. Their efforts start very early in the process by examining master sections and standard locators and then progresses simultaneous with product design maturity all the way to part transportation, presentation and sequencing – with many virtual “JIT checks” along the way. Early Functional builds are an excellent way to check initial part fit, finish and function when development has progressed to the physical world and create a rapid feedback/learning loop before tool finalization. Menlo Innovations compiles disparate code and performs weekly software system runs with their customers to ensure compatibility to requirements and generate industry-changing products. Toyota demonstrated its commitment to the environment by employing a progressive CbC approach to hot stamping technology on a recent development program. The result was a two-thirds reduction in carbon footprint and the elimination of an environmentally risky shot blasting process to remove oxide.
There are many tools and technologies to aid in moving your compatibility efforts up-stream, where they are most effective. We now have everything from stunning virtual reality environments, to incredibly powerful simulators, to the numerous additive-manufacturing technologies that aid in rapid prototyping. But none of these, it seems to me, is as important as the organizational drive to create a truly great total customer experience, an enabling, foundational infrastructure to promote value stream collaboration, and maybe just healthy, hearty conversations between colleagues who are united in their pursuit of better answers…with or without beer.