Jun 6, 2011

Lean Product Development

I've been working on lean product development lately, but haven't made much progress.  For the most part we're able to turn over prototypes quickly enough, the addition of a simulated sterilization cycle would help, but we don't have the equipment for decently controlled humidity.  The two areas we seam to have the most problem is fixing very minor product problems and document control. 

The minor problems are usually software bugs or nagging fit or packaging problems that we can make work, but we wouldn't release with.  No one is really excited about tackling these because they have the tendency to turn into a lot of work.  Someone just needs to grind them out before we get to verification.

The document control delays are the delays that really get under my skin.  I've worked with both paper and electronic systems now and I by far prefer electronic- especially if the team is split geographically.  By electronic I don't mean the team signs a paper and scans it in and someone compiles it, I mean an approved online signature method.  The problem almost always turns into we all agree on everything when we're talking, but putting it down on paper makes people weird, especially if you have a bad system where it is all or nothing and no one read anything ahead of time so you end up with several restarts.  Now if you have a change you want to make that is 100% fine-by-me just do it in a timely manner and we're square.  Try to avoid being one of the following types:

  1. Double-dipper - bring up everything you want changed the FIRST time through, don't keep coming up with new issues.  Second rounds of comments should be very rare.
  2. Nit-picker - does adding that re-formatting really add value?
  3. Delayer - doesn't read anything until its past due then has to find some issues to make the delay seem appropriate
  4. 2 center - can't let anything go without adding more work no matter what, 90% of the time adds no value.  You want a hold order on this engineering product even though it is labeled "Not for Human Use" and the part number isn't active in the distribution or customer service systems so there is no possible way it could ship on an order?
Not that I'm perfect, but I try to come back to value added when making comments.  Most of the time it is quicker and better for relationships to just suck it up and put up with whatever to get to the next step, but that doesn't really create a culture of improvement.  Every cycle through the documentation system probably costs $500 when you have a bunch of Californians involved.  For now I've decided to gently nudge people in what I consider the right direction, hoping to change the culture over the long run.  If we can just focus on what is important maybe we don't have to work so many late nights, etc.  I don't really know of another way to approach it.

BTW, there are a ton of great lean blogs out there, here are a few:

Evolving Excellence
The Lean Thinker
gemba panta rei
Gemba Tales

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This statement resonated with me: "The minor problems are usually software bugs....or packaging problems that we can make work, but we wouldn't release with. No one is really excited about tackling these because they have the tendency to turn into a lot of work. Someone just needs to grind them out..."

I'm a senior scientist at a startup medical device company (~50 people) and I've seen that it's the "boring" problems that can cause the delays if they're not fixed. And you're right, these problems usually take A LOT of work to solve, work that isn't intellectually challenging but just needs due diligence.

I think the engineers and scientists would be more motivated to address these "clean-up" problems if that work would be fully acknowledged by the team and the company. I try to take ownership of some of these clean-up issues just because it needs to be done and we're on an aggressive schedule, but, for me that work can be a little oppressive and depressing because I don't feel like I'm learning anything in the process.