If you’re familiar with the world of Lean, then you’ve probably heard the expression “it’s a journey.” This expression has become a little trivial or trite. It’s become a little hollowed out, sort of like the term empowerment or win-win. I have a colleague who hates the expression win-win. He hates it because it is always used as a mask when he finds himself in a win-lose situation. But Lean really is a journey and I want to articulate the elements of that journey for you today.

First, you need to define your starting point, like a journey. Then you define a destination or where you want to go. Finally you have a rate of progress towards your destination. So, if you’re traveling from New York to California, you have your starting point in NY and your destination in CA. You have your rate of progress that includes intermediate states. You might stop in PA and visit some friends. You might only have enough money to get to IN. If that’s the case then you’ll need to stop and make some money for a little while before you pack up and continue west as far as you can go. California represents the ideal state and you have some intermediary states along the way.

In the world of Lean you define the current state, you consider your ideal state, you understand your limits, you identify targeted improvement states — way stations along the way, you go there and reach a steady state, then you prepare the next move on your continuous journey when the time is right. And that’s how Lean is represented as a journey.

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If you’ve seen the television ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups where the peanut butter and chocolate trucks collide to produce a novel tasty treat, then you’ll understand the basis for this blog entry.
In our case the peanut butter truck is a dialogue that has become a standard part of our engagements with consulting clients.  After seminars or during product development system discussions, we are often asked who are the major product development thought leaders who we most admire and who serve as strong influences on our own thinking. The chocolate truck counterpart is the parlor game in which people name the three people that they would like to invite to a dinner party. A group of my friends recently enjoyed this game, and yes, there was drinking involved, and yes, it is in my own career’s best interest not to go down the path of their interests!

But when I apply the question to my professional interest, and allow myself to expand the dinner group to four, I was able to come up with my own personal Fab Four of Product Development.  In no particular order here they are. They are all respected authors so you should be able to find lots of follow up material if your interest is piqued.

First invitation gets sent to Durward Sobek. Durward is a professor at Montana State University and a humble, focused thought leader in the world of Lean Product Development. Durward was the lead on-the-ground-in-Japan researcher for the first foreign team allowed behind the curtain that cloaked understanding of Toyota’s closely guarded product development system. Durward is co-author of the Shingo Prizing winning book, Understanding A3 Thinking, which gives a full and clear understanding of how Deming’s teaching have been applied and practiced with great success in Japan. On first meeting Durward and then reading his book, there was immediate recognition of how the tool in the book’s title was a potential game changer for Western product developers.

Second invitation goes to John Shook. Like Durward, Shook is a Shingo Prize winning author, who also focuses on the A3. Durward, I know personally, as well as through his various writings; John Shook I know just through his writings. Shook’s book, Managing to Learn, doubles down on the belief that product development is about the generation and application of new knowledge, innovation, but he also importantly charts out how the A3 process is used as a cornerstone of the ongoing professional development of engineers at Toyota. Shook’s writing is deeply insightful and resonates with authenticity, being based on his own experience as an early Western manager within the ranks of Toyota both in Japan and subsequently within the US. Toyota does a lot of things well; Shook helps us understand their important investment in people.

The third invitation goes to Don Reinertsen. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Don Reinertsen once, but it was after having followed his writings since the late 1990’s. When I met Don, I was in the middle of reading his latest book, The Principles of Product Development Flow. He told me it is a difficult read. It is. It is also worth the effort. Reinertsen uses communication theory and practice as a framework for considering product development, in that both systems are characterized by high variability and both have as a necessary goal, the flow of information. Reinertsen’s perspective on product development, his multi-decade promotion of Queuing Theory which challenges self-defeating behaviors in product development, and his emphasis on the economic consequences of our current “best” practices are all valuable contributions to efforts of improving how we operate.

The final invitation goes to Mike Kennedy; last, but in fact perhaps most significant and influential. I attended a seminar Mike gave in the early 2000s, and it was an epiphany. It began my conversion from corporate executive to a product development consultant focused on Lean Product Development. Mike has been the major voice articulating both his own and the late Allen Ward’s understanding of ‘a better way of doing product development’. EAC has an ongoing partnership with Mike. He is a champion of the LAMDA process (the PDCA process as practiced at Toyota, interpreted and recast by Allen Ward to suit Westerners), and the developer of Learning First Product Development. He is also the first author to elaborate the theoretical framework for Lean Product Development and then follow it up with a guide to its pragmatic implementation in Western environments. This latter contribution is captured in his book, Ready, Set, Dominate. Mike now travels the world as an evangelist, or perhaps better, as the Johnny Appleseed of Lean Product Development.

So that’s my dinner party.  For me it would be a slice of heaven.  I should probably start a bucket list and get this on line 1.


In the world of Lean, the timing of the complex dance of syncopated work is managed through cadence.

The most visible and familiar example of cadence in Lean systems is the concept of takt time that controls the production line. The work of each station along a production line or in a work cell is executed within the same time-duration bounding-box. The concept of cadence enables load leveling, the act of shifting work from one production workstation to a neighbor so that the time of execution at all workstations can be balanced to fit into the shortest, most efficient takt time. The most efficient takt time produces the most efficient total cycle time and serves the high-level goals of Lean production systems.

One of the five fundamental principles of Lean is Flow, the uninterrupted movement of value across boundaries. Cadence is the heartbeat that determines the flux of value within the system. The analogy of a heartbeat is doubly appropriate.

Like a heartbeat, the cadence of production has a systolic stage that forces flow, as work in progress moves from one station to then next. And the cadence has a diastolic stage of low flow pressure, during the execution of the tasks at each station.

The second valuable aspect of the analogy of the heartbeat is its organic nature. With increasing focus on knowledge work and management efforts to humanize the workplace in the pursuit of greater productivity, mechanical models have been increasingly displaced by organic, systemic models. And so the heart organ replaces the ticking clock or the metronome as the timing event.

In Lean Product Development also, cadence serves to both coordinate and drive the timing of events. But unlike in the manufacture and assembly of product, the cycle times of product development are much longer and the model of the beat-per-second human heart is useful, but less insightful. An example of the use of cadence in Lean Product Development is the use of Integrating Events in Set Based Concurrent Design. These events are used to put innovation ‘on a clock’ but in a way that is not counterproductive to the creative work.

The period of this development cadence extends over several weeks. For what kind of creature does this describe their heartbeat? Obviously, none, and so some other organic cadence function likely serves as a better model. The menstrual cycle leaps to mind — appropriate by period of cadence, by its somewhat variable regularity, and by its key role in the creative (innovation?) process. Of interest to me is the time variance between the two strokes of the integration event cycle, if fact of any cadenced cycle. It gets me thinking.

In a heartbeat, the two halves of the ‘lub-dub’ cycle are approximately equal in duration. In a factory setting, the division of takt time between the task of adding value and the task of movement to the next station are ideally not approximately equal in time, but rather the value-add time is maximized and the non-value-add-but-necessary time is minimized.

Allow me to detour for a quick, justification side bar here. A common caution to Lean practitioners is to avoid blindly applying the tools of Lean, but rather to use them with an understanding of the underlying principles that guide their application, the ‘why’ of the tools. Like the standards that we have developed to make our work more efficient and more effective, the principles of Lean themselves must be analyzed and sometimes challenged in the cause of continuous improvement. And so I embark on a perhaps Quixotic dive into thinking about flow and cadence.

My thinking calls into focus another fundamental principle of Lean, the pursuit of Perfection. Principle based Lean practitioners recognize Perfection, the idealized future state, as being more of a compass heading than a destination. And so the question is begged, what is Perfect Flow? Is it the reduction to zero of non-value-add but perhaps-necessary time? And if that is so, does that mean no movement (so no flow) or that value-add can be done during movement? We’ll rip this apart in our next blog. And we invite you to send your thoughts on this and all future blogs in to us to help guide our thinking and our learning.

And so as we speak of the next blog and of the value of cadence, we are announcing that we will now put a cadence to our postings, to make it easier and more predictable for those who wish to follow. We will put up some new thoughts on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, with the occasional ‘organic’ variation to our regularity. And on occasion, we may throw up an intermediary blog as we get something off our mind and into words. And, again, we are interested in your feedback, so please share your thoughts with us.