NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

Discard or Fix?

I’ve blogged in the past about Lean Product Development and how I see the real process improvements can only be realised by considering the fundamental principles behind lean (identification and elimination of non-value added activities) and applying them to the non-linear non-repetitive world of product development.

On a number of occasions, in my role of facilitating organisations on their lean journey we have encountered existing processes or rigidly adhered tools which have been identified as a major source of waste.  Over complicated ‘gates’ in stage gate methodology, bloated QFD matrices, ‘rubber stamp’ specification sign-off process that delay progress there are many other examples.

The temptation to rip up and destroy these wasteful ‘offenders’, replacing them with something new and ‘Lean’ is indeed great – and I’d admit to encouraging such zealous behaviour in the past.

But recently I helped a group explore how to remove the waste from their Stage Gate process but still leave some of the principles of the process intact.  For an organisation with very high capital costs associated with their product development right from the start of the project it made sense.

If it’s broke then consider fixing it rather than throwing it away…

Reminder from the Street (literally)

Walking along the street this morning I encountered a road sweeping vehicle, a ’support’ van and three individuals arguing and swearing over the impossibility of changing a damaged brush on the front of the vehicle without having to return to the depot.

Field based observational market research – never underestimate its value however difficult it is to carry out…

Hidden Customer Needs

It’s easy to identify the obvious customer requirements, but you have to be a lot smarter to really understand the hidden customer needs.

Customers of walking boots often feel the tongue of a boot to judge whether it will be comfortable.

Farmers like their dogs to sit alongside them in their tractors

Elderly people refer to ‘climbing’ in and out of a car

What don’t you know about what your customers do and how they think?

‘Looking’ at Specifications

‘Getting the Specification Right’ is an almost universal problem for any organisation involved in new product development.  The specification is the voice of the customer within the product development process but it should also act as a communication tool between engineering disciplines and organisational functions.  The spectrum of types and form of specifications range from vague ‘back of an envelope’ statements which are open to costly misinterpretation to overblown indigestible tomes that take inordinate time to produce and maintain and stifle innovation.  All too often an organisation finds itself at one of these damaging extremes

Whilst doing some work with an electronic equipment manufacturer, the inevitable subject of specifications came up.  Samples of the specifications produced for a selection of projects showed a spread in the level of detail of the requirements that were documented – no big surprise.  But the real eye-opener was in observing how these documents were reviewed.  Pages of text were ignored as the engineering team flicked through the documents looking for diagrams.  These conveyed the key product requirements far more effectively than text descriptions.

That observation was the key to exploring how a single diagram could be constructed to convey the hardware and software requirements for a given product.  This idea isn’t new – the software community has been using all manner of diagrams to specify how their products should work, but in this example using a single diagram to communicate information across all disciplines involved in the development of physical products provided a highly efficient solution to a common problem.

‘The Homer’

In an episode of The Simpsons (’Oh Brother Where Art Thou’), Homer’s long lost half-brother invites him to design a new car for his company Powell Motors.  The result is the ‘The Homer’ which included such features as a soundproof dome for the kids and a horn that plays ‘La Cucaracha’.  Unfortunately the car cost so much to develop and had such a high price tag that Powell Motors went bust.

Homer Simpson's Car

Homer Simpson's Car

I managed to get hold of a model of the car which I often use to draw people’s attention to requirement specifications gone mad…