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Q&A on the Book Designing the Future

Key Takeaways

  • Developing the right product for your customer with speed and value can revolutionize your business.
  • Excellence in product development requires collaboration across the extended enterprise and LPPD can help you accomplish this.
  • Even the basics of visual management and a cohesive team that meets at least weekly can make a big difference in product development.
  • To get the most from LPPD you need to develop a system of people, process and the right tools at the right time.
  • There is no standard roadmap for transforming your development process through LPPD, but we recommend experimenting on a model program to learn deeply before spreading wide across the organization.

The book Designing the Future by James Morgan and Jeffrey Liker shows how companies are using Lean Product and Process Development to create new products and services and become innovative.   

InfoQ readers can download chapter 1 of Designing the Future.

InfoQ interviewed Morgan and Liker about a product-led transformation at Ford Motor Company, applying prototyping or experiments, developing a product vision, using milestones, setting up and using obeya systems, what leaders can do to build aligned and focused teams, dealing with tough situations, creating a supportive culture for learning, developing capabilities to deliver products, and fostering self-organization.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book?

James Morgan: To serve is to live.  For me it was about giving back, to make a small payment against the obligation I have incurred from others who have mentored me.  About sharing what I have learned during a particularly interesting time in industry in the twelve or so years since the last book. To help other practitioners who are struggling to find a better way to develop products and services the way others have helped me.  

Jeffrey Liker: I was excited about all that we had learned since the Toyota Product Development System by implementing Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD) in a variety of different companies.  I was especially excited about the experiences of Jim in transforming Ford product development to world class levels.  Our first book described Toyota. I wanted to share what we learned about how to transform a non-Toyota company using a lot of stories.

InfoQ: For whom is it intended?

Morgan: It is intended for all serious practitioners who are working to find a better way to develop products, processes and services. Especially for those who are in leadership positions who want to improve organizational development capabilities in order to create great products and a great place to work.

Liker: I agree with Jim.  I would add that many lean manufacturing practitioners are asked to bring lean to product development and they attempt to modify the Toyota Production System.  We think our book can help them understand some of the unique issues in product development.

InfoQ: Your book starts with the story of a product-led transformation at Ford Motor Company. What are some of the main learnings of this story?

Liker: The Ford transformation was one of the most complete I have seen.  It was a true systems change.  I would like to convey that.  I would be happy if someone thinks:  there is really a lot to this.  It is a whole lot more than value stream mapping and taking out waste.  It is a true cultural change.

Morgan: The overriding lesson is that focusing an organization on creating better products can help transform an entire company - that LPPD principles and practices can be successful even in a very large, 100 year old global company.  That such a transformation is not just the work of the CEO but requires aligned efforts throughout the organization through an effective management system.

InfoQ: How can we apply prototyping or experiments to find out what software product to develop?

Morgan: I am not an experienced software developer, however I have seen set based experimentation, targeted fidelity prototypes, and rapid learning cycles applied to software – hardware integrated products quite successfully by creating an pro-active learning plan, cadenced integration events and effective obeya practices for collaboration and coordination.       

Liker: It is worth reading Richard Sheridan’s book Joy that focuses on software development and shows how to actively engage the customer and break the big program down into pieces, experimenting with each piece and getting immediate customer feedback.

InfoQ: What are your suggestions for developing a product vision?

Morgan: Deep immersion at the gemba during the study period to truly understand your customer and their context. To truly study and listen deeply to your customer in a very intentional way.  To look broadly across your industry to understand the current state and conduct detailed product or service dissections where called for.  Creating an active learning plan and experimentation to test ideas and close knowledge gaps. To create a concept paper to clarify your thinking and engage and enroll others.

Liker: Jim says it well.  We also talk about the role of the chief engineer—an overall architect for the product who assimilates all the data and spends time with customers and integrates many perspectives into a vision. These are specially developed people who become the chief architects.

InfoQ: How can we use milestones effectively within lean product development?

Morgan: Milestones are the key to orchestrating development across functions.  They are the primary mechanism for integrating work and for understanding normal from abnormal conditions so that the development team may act accordingly.  Effective milestones start with a clear and aligned purpose statement.  Why do we even have this milestone?  What does it tell us?  Then develop clear quality of event criteria.  How do we know if we have learned/accomplished what we need to at this milestone?  How do we know if we are ahead or behind?  It is not just an activity, but the quality of the activity that is important. 

Liker: The main failure mode of milestones is viewing them as checkpoints.  In LPPD there is feedback and adjustment happening all of the time.  The checkpoint is a major opportunity to reflect and learn.  It should not feel like passing a test.

InfoQ: What have you learned when it comes to setting up and using obeya systems?

Liker: The obeya paces the work of many functional specialists so they are checking the status of their work products in short intervals, seeing how they can help each other, seeing gaps between plan versus actual and taking corrective action. It should focus on deviation management—where are we red? Generally resolution of problems should happen outside the obeya meeting by subgroups.

Morgan: The obeya space needs to become the center and the heartbeat of the project.  Whether the team is collocated or not, it is the place where they come together to share and collaborate.  It is the primary source of project information.  And that information is not just a schedule.  It is all the information critical to the project such as glide path plans to achieve critical product attributes or the latest CAD or other data – especially if there is a problem.  It must be a safe place where people are encouraged to surface issues.  Where they can rely on getting help with issues and not be punished.  It must also focus on recovery from issues – you need a plan.  It’s okay to be red, it’s not okay to stay red.  And each group must own its own swim lane.  That is they speak to their own work and they update their own visual management - and at clock speed appropriate and disciplined cadence is critical.  “That’s okay, we'll be back next week”.

InfoQ: What can leaders do to build aligned and focused teams?

Morgan: This is not an insignificant question.  I believe that it is impacted by hiring/selection of people, development of people, manager selection and promotion and of course leadership behaviors.  One key is to develop an effective management system.  In my view a management system is comprised of two key elements: leadership behaviors and an operating system.  In the book we give many examples of successful leadership behaviors.  Your operating system is made up of the tools, cadenced events and other mechanisms that enable a leader to be effective. Both the behaviors and the operating system are required – and they need to be aligned.  And in product and process development (as well as the rest of the organization) there is no better thing to align the team around than the product – very powerful.

Liker: A big part of that management system is the target setting process.  The chief engineer sets the product targets and each function develops appropriate targets to support the chief engineer. 

InfoQ: What's your advice to leaders for dealing with tough situations?

Morgan: Stuff is going to go wrong – that’s a given.  The question is, how are you going to react to it.  This is been true for thousands of years.  The best leaders have the grit to keep going – and to keep their team moving forward.  One key is to look at problems as gems, as opportunities to improve your product, your process, your team – yourself.  Problems are a chance to make your development system a little more bullet proof. From a certain perspective, product and process development consist largely of problem solving, so the better you get at it, the better your development capability.

Liker: I agree with Jim. Arguably that is what product development is—solving a series of tough problems.  It can be a creative joyous process rather than drudgery.

InfoQ: How can we create a supportive culture for learning?

Morgan:  First and foremost, drive fear out of the organization.  Make it okay to experiment, make mistakes, question things and raise issues.  Create time and resources for learning – both capturing and applying learning.  Design reviews are an excellent mechanism for learning – I refer to them as the crucible of innovation.  Then make knowledge available in user-friendly way – we focused on making knowledge available at the right time and the right place.  Also including context is important:  not just what, but why and how.  And leaders reinforcing learning behaviors

Liker: It is also critical to have knowledge gatekeepers for each function who are the keepers of the know-how database for their specialty to avoid lots of information that never gets used.

InfoQ: What can be done to develop capabilities to deliver exceptional products and services?

Liker: This is the higher level thinking of individuals and the team. With all the support of the various tools of LPPD, this is where the team is striving for excellence, is passionate about the product.  An exciting culture leads to an exciting product.  We also took about the importance of strong functional groups that are teaching the deep knowledge of their engineering discipline.

Morgan: I think you can approach it like a design challenge. Apply the LPPD principles and practices in your transformation.  Start by deeply understanding your current state, develop a compelling vision, learn through pilot experimentation, create an aligned plan, and focus on relentless executing leveraging tools like obeya, milestones, reflection events and design reviews.

InfoQ: How can a top-down led change initiative foster self-organization?

Morgan: Senior leadership is responsible for creating a context for success – providing an operating framework in which teams can thrive. 

Liker: The top down leadership is to make the challenge—requirements clear and to manage the product of product creation leaving space for creative engineers to develop what they can imagine.

About the Book Authors

Jim Morgan is a senior advisor at the Lean Enterprise Institute and founder of their LPPD initiative.  He co-wrote The Toyota Product Development System and Designing the Future.  Prior to joining LEI, Dr. Morgan spent more than 30 years in industry as a product leader including serving as Global Engineering Director at Ford Motor Company during the historic, product led revitalization under CEO Alan Mulally.

Jeffrey Liker is professor emeritus of industrial and operations engineering, University of Michigan and president of Liker Lean Advisors. He is the author of the international best-seller, The Toyota Way, and co-wrote The Toyota Product Development System and Designing the Future.  In 2012 he was inducted into the Association of Manufacturing Excellence Hall of Fame and in 2016 inducted into the Shingo Academy.

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