Product Development

The Dinner Party

5 June 2012 | Team EACPDS


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.