For Quicker Time to Market, Think Lean
Speed/cost/quality… pick two because you can’t have all three. Remember those conversations? These days, companies seem to be taking products from ideas to market at an astonishing rate. In many cases, these products are being developed quickly without sacrificing high quality, without incurring additional cost, and adding value to customers. Those companies realize that there is often a prize for being the first to offer a new, innovative solution – brand recognition. On top of that, being first to market means having an edge on the competition. How? The common theme is lean product development. This approach reduces the time to market for new products and increases the speed at which companies can deliver new features and solutions to their existing products. The right innovative product, released to the right market at the right time for the right price is the ultimate goal of so many businesses. With so many companies competing for market share, adoption of lean product development could be essential for supporting business goals.
What is Lean Product Development?
Lean product development is a methodology focused on increased speed to market while staying constantly focused on the value to customers by making incremental improvements to the deployment of the system. It’s not entirely new. Lean product development is influenced by the successes in the manufacturing sector originating with the Toyota Production System starting in the 1970s. Six Sigma’s lean manufacturing and focus on the goals has increased velocity in production, eliminated defects, reduced variability, and lowered cost of goods to customers. All of these benefits resulted in corresponding increases in profits. Companies big and small that focus on product development have begun to take notice of the advantages of lean methodologies and have started applying lean principles to their processes. These lessons learned are starting to be utilized by market leaders who are not focused on manufacturing. Product management is leading the way in bringing innovation to the market place. The link between the manufacturing of the project and the delivery to market capitalizing into profit on both efforts.
How to Develop a Lean Product Development Strategy
Converting from traditional product development to a lean model is not a quick transformation. Rather, for lean product development to be successful, it involves a slow change in company culture and process, and should be initiated in small steps, growing over time, project by project. Some companies may choose to utilize pilot teams first and trickle out the process to the company at large after the first small team successes. There are several key factors to successfully converting to a lean product development strategy:
Elevating Customer Value to #1
If the main goal is reducing product development costs or increasing profits, it’s time to re-define focus. In lean product development, the priority is always providing value to the customer. Everything revolves around customer value. Customer’s pull (demand) is constantly monitored, allowing for necessary adjustments and elevating the significance of the research team throughout development. Additionally, this constant evaluation provides organizations the ability to withdraw from a market before a tipping point is reached and market share is lost.
Create a Value Stream
In customer-centric lean product development, collaboration and teamwork reign. Individual contributors are empowered to make the best choices to complete their tasks for the customer, while at the same time keeping open lines of communication to all other contributors. All players know their role in the end-to-end system and how their contribution directly affects the number one focus – value to the customer.
Visualize and Streamline Flow
Traditional product development flows like a waterfall, with each team completing their tasks and then handing off the product to the next team. Delays and complications in any of the steps mean increases to the overall timeline. In lean product development, all teams are involved, have equal partnership and provide input from the beginning. Many tasks occur concurrently, reducing the overall development timeline. Any unnecessary tasks or resources that don’t contribute value are eliminated, streamlining the entire system. Communication between teams is optimized by visual workflow boards and weekly status meetings. This approach supports a more Agile product development lifecycle where minimum viable products are produced and tested. This allows for value add changes to be tested in the market.
Evaluate, Learn & Improve
Another important tenant of lean product development is constant improvement of the system driving toward optimum performance. Metrics of the system should be monitored and evaluated. These metrics can also be used to provide visibility to management, so they can see improvements and support the overall lean strategy. Learning is encouraged and amplified in lean models.
Transforming to a lean style of product development can support many business goals. Jeff Bezos is constantly talking about how the customer is number one; focusing on the customer first actually increases profits in the end. There are several other positive results of lean product development:
• Speed time to market
• Reduced product development costs
• Efficient use of resources
• Process and performance improvement
• Being known as an innovative leader
• Edging out the competition
• Better products
So, forget having to pick from speed/cost/quality when developing products. With adoption of a lean product development methodology, you can have all three.
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