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12 Wastes of Product & Process Development

by Katrina Appell & John Drogosz
August 2, 2019

12 Wastes of Product & Process Development

by Katrina Appell & John Drogosz
August 2, 2019 | Comments (8)

The wastes found in manufacturing have been well documented over the years. As we move upstream into product development, the environment is clearly different, but waste is unfortunately just as prevalent. It is harder to “see” as it morphs itself into different categories than those found in the factory. Based on the works of Jim Morgan, Jeff Liker, Allen Ward and our own experiences, below are some wastes commonly seen in product and process development.

1. Handoffs

Transferring information or material from one party to another. While most handoffs in product development are done electronically nowadays, a lot of waste can be generated due to misunderstanding the information being transferred and/or waiting for feedback from others.

2. Waiting

Waiting for data, answers, decisions, review events, and capacity (people or machine). This is one of the most common wastes in product development and can account for more than 30% of the project lead times.

3. Overdoing

Effort and expense expended to generate data that is never used. This is similar to over-processing in the factory. We are creating more and more data but is it really (re)usable knowledge that creates value? Status updates and reports are also areas where we tend to overdo.

4. Rework/Redundant Tasks

Redoing the same work over again – fixing an error, multiple reviews of the same information or multiple approvals. Some iterations using point-based development approaches also lead to a lot of rework and lost time. Not getting cross-functional inputs at the right time can also drive re-design/rework.

5. Stop and Go Tasks

Each time a person has to reorient themselves to a task. It requires multiple “setups” causing additional effort and delays. While giving the illusion that we are progressing, some multitasking can drive stop & go and extend lead times.

6. Reinvention Waste

Re-creating or rediscovering knowledge that we already have and can reuse. This also includes knowledge available outside an organization. “Not invented here” can be a driver of reinvention.

7. Unused/Misused Talent

People working on projects and tasks that customers do not want or need. This is one of the worst wastes as not fully utilizing the talent of our most valuable asset – our skilled people can be demoralizing. Nobody wants to work on a product that a customer does not buy! Remember lean is all about enabling people.

8. Transaction Waste

This is the time and effort arranging for work to be done (e.g., contract negotiations, quotations, resource scheduling, financial reporting). Some of these tasks are non-value added but required while others are wasteful distractions from our value-added work.

9. High Process and Arrival Variation

Process variation can be caused by everyone doing tasks in their own way or because they have not been fully trained to a standard process. This typically leads to arrival variation as variable task times lead to uncertain delivery of outputs to downstream customers.

10. System Over-utilization

Inserting too much work into a system. Once systems reach approximately 80% utilization, small increases in work dramatically increase lead times of all work in a given system. Large batch releases are large contributors to over-utilization as they overburden people and increase cycle times. Over-utilization can happen at any level – projects, departments, and individuals’ desks.

11. Waste of Wishful Thinking

As first identified by Allen Ward, widely considered a pioneer in the field of lean product and process development (LPPD), this waste can take several forms. Wishful thinking can be seen in making decisions with inadequate knowledge, setting arbitrary timelines, estimating times to complete tasks, and overly optimistic expectations of learning or discovering new knowledge.

12. Unsynchronized Concurrent Tasks

One of the most insidious wastes. It seems like the right thing to do to work concurrently, but unsynchronized concurrency is often the root cause of a great deal of the other wastes mentioned above. More to come on the Dark Side of Concurrent Engineering in an upcoming post.

Maybe you have seen some of the above waste in your processes? With everyone so busy with all the work that needs to be done on a day-to-day basis, we sometimes simply take the above wastes as just being part of the work.  However, the only way to free up your time to create new value is to start seeing and eliminating these wastes. A good way to see and understand the wastes together is through a product development value stream map.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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8 Comments | Post a Comment
Isabella Englebach August 05, 2019

Great list!

The waste of making a product that doesn't sell is a waste of talent for sure.  It is also a waste of other resources, and dwarfs all the other wastes in its impact. Sometimes a product doesn't sell because it is truly is a bad idea, but often the failure of a product is due to failure of the product development team to work with people in other functions (for example marketing, or the the complaint department) and with potential customers to determine create customer demand for the product at it's chosen price point. You could say this is the wase of Wishful Thinking, but I have seen so many product development teams get excited over their idea and forget about marketing the product that I would suggest that it deserves its own waste. We really should call this ares of lean "Lean Product, Process, and Market Development." A clean and effective hand-off to the folks who are going to sell the product is even more  important than the hand-off to the folks who will manufacture it. 

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Katrina Appell August 05, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Isabella - Thank you for your comment! 

You are spot on. I don't know how many times I've said "If you don't understand what the product needs to be then everything you do is waste." That is why when we talk about the LPPD principles we start with deeply understand what your product needs to be. And this list was generated more around the perspective of creating flow and eliminating waste, so we missed on emphasizing that critical point. 

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Sam Morgan October 08, 2019

Im curious, in the above, when we say "what the product needs to be"  is this synonymous with "what the customer values" and "what the customer wants/needs"?

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Katrina Appell October 08, 2019

The customer is certainly one of the perspectives that needs to be understood and integrated. The user also is, which may be different than the customer. And there are business perspectives that need to be aligned as well.

Here is a previous post that discusses some methods to understand and get alignment on what the product needs to be: https://www.lean.org/LeanPost/Posting.cfm?LeanPostId=794

Sam Doucette August 09, 2019

These 12 wastes sound a lot like the IT acquisition world in the USAF.  Our near-peer adversaries (Russia and China) are rapidly catching up to us in terms of IT innovation, and our IT acquisition systems are trying to stay ahead by adopting machine learning, artificial intelligence, Agile software development, etc.  However, because we live in a government bureaucracy with many review levels and other non-value-added but required wastes, we encounter many of the same issues you point out.  We are less like a factory and more like a product development lab with every passing day.  I will share this with my colleagues.

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kedar pathak August 27, 2019

You are absolutely spot on with your list!! 

Most of the items in list are applicable even in software industry, in both product and service delivery.

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Joe Duffy September 24, 2019

Good update to the list.  I would suggest in the handoff area that transferring data between systems is another source of waste - particularly in managing the interfaces.

Another element of "overdoing" is gathering of quality / metrics data that either is not used or has no correlation to success.  Not having measures that correlate to success occurs more often than we realize!

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Owen Berkeley-Hill October 09, 2019

The one thing the Lean movement does not recognise (stop me if I have got it wrong) is the difference between Ordinary and Complex problems.  I’d like to draw your attention to the work of John N Warfield who developed a way of measuring Complexity and a team-based method of understanding and structuring complex problems, which he called Interactive Management (IM).

What I did not see in the article, nor in the links in the article, nor the subsequent posts was whether anyone had recognised Complexity was lurking in the shadows ready to unravel your best efforts.

So, you have a cross-functions group of people undertaking the task of designing a whizzy new product: remember Tuckman’s model and the need to grow a group into a team. Here is one of John’s Laws of Complexity:

Whatever the group, whatever the complex issue being considered by the group, at the outset of group consideration of the issue, the individual members of the group will have quite diverse beliefs about the issue; and the probability is high that this situation will remain undiscovered and uncorrected, in the absence of a group learning experience using a methodology whose power to produce the necessary learning has been scientifically validated.

I hope I am not depressing you, but John developed 20 Laws of Complexity and the limitations of the human mind in trying to cope with complexity. For example, using Miller’s magical number 7, John suggested that the human mind finds difficulty in coping with more than three items or issues because there are four relationships between the item adding up to seven chunks of information (the Law of Triadic Compatibility).

The Situational Complexity Index (SCI) is calculated by the product of three components:

  1. The Miller Index determined by the number of items/issues being discussed divided by 7
  2. The Spreadthink Index (a measure of nemawashi?): if the members of the group are asked to rank their top 5 issues of all the issues brainstormed by them, the Index is the number of ranked issues (regardless of rank) divided by 5. An index of one would be near-perfect consensus.
  3. The De Morgan Index: assuming there are five items being discussed, if the relationship between them is linear (i.e. A influences B, B -> C, C -> D, and D->E) then there are 10 relationships because A also influences C through B and so on. This index is calculated by dividing the number of relationships by 10.

John argued that any SCI >1 would indicate a complex problem, but to create clear water between the ordinary and the complex, he suggested an SCI >100. At Ford in the 90s, teams were unknowingly tackling problems with SCIs between 500 and 7000 before the arrival of IM which many agreed that not only gave them great insights into the structures of complex problems but built teamwork and consensus.

Coming back to the 12 Wastes of Process and Product Development, are these endemic or the result of asking teams to tackle problems and tasks with methodologies not suited to complex situations? Would it be helpful if the Lean community broadened it vision and look outside its immediate Lean environs to minimise some of the Wastes we see so regularly?

There is a website dedicated to the intellectual legacy of John Warfield (1925 – 2009): https://www.jnwarfield.com/. There are people who know more about Complexity and IM than I do. I would be prepared to introduce anyone interested in John’s work to these experts.

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