The philosophy of lean urges practitioners to find simpler, less wasteful way to do things. Previously, we talked about how to get started. In part two of this series, find out how lean impacts engineering tools, how to find expert advice, and whether it’s all worth the trouble.
Essential engineering software: No change.
So what does lean thinking mean to your design software? To be honest, if a tool was a good idea before lean product development, it’s probably a good idea in the lean engineering environment as well.
When University of Michigan researchers studied lean product development at Toyota, they found that “early engineering rigor, problem solving, and designed-in countermeasures, along with true cross-functional participation, are key to maximizing effectiveness.” They called it “front loading,” and credited it for trimming one of the most expensive sources of waste in product development: downstream rework.
In other words, get the design right early, and it pays off throughout the product cycle. Changes late in the game create waste, and at its heart, lean is all about reducing waste.
Today, many software applications can support your efforts for great and robust early work. For example, your CAD system may have add-ons that can evaluate the manufacturability of your plastic and sheet metal parts, allowing you to eliminate operations later in the process. Your CAD vendor is likely to have simulation software available that can also look for wasted material or eliminate steps. Or, explore specialized dealers for CAD-independent tools.
And of course explore data management tools. They can help you communicate your ideas with cross-functional team members early, frequently, and accurately. Give manufacturing a peek while your still developing your ideas; they may have some key ideas for keeping costs down. Even marketing and documentation teams can speed up when they can access designs well before prototyping.
Where the lean dogs hang: Forums and expert discussion
People devote their entire careers to learning, discussing, and arguing about lean processes. Some people geek out on it just because they find it fascinating. Listen in on some of their conversations at these sites:
• Lean.org: Remember James Womack from our first “lean” article? This link leads to Lean Enterprise Institute, his website and community forum.
• Leanedge.org: Meanwhile, you’ll find experts like Jeff Liker and Michael Ballé here on Lean Edge discussing topics like how to enlist a sensei and the role of temps in the lean organization.
• Lean Advancement Initiative video page: This site includes many talks about lean enterprises. Look especially for case study videos from this MIT-based group.
Is it worth it?
By now you’ve probably guessed that lean product development is a broad and multifaceted method that isn’t easy to define or embrace with a few easy step-by-step instructions. The upfront effort may involve costly consultants and disrupt engineering teams for days.
But companies that have deployed successfully blossom. Researchers say that using lean to relieve bottlenecks, eliminate rework, and optimize teamwork has reduced development times by 30-50% for companies. With these kinds of results, lean is worth a look for any organization.
More teams are using Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social tools to speed up product development. Independent analyst firm, Consilia Vektor, explains how this changes Product Data Management (PDM) as you know it and how this can help your team work smarter.