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Product Development Success Hinges on People not Processes or Tools

But companies get more excited about installing new equipment than developing people, according to a new article by Lean Enterprise Institute researchers.

Cambridge, MA (PRWEB) April 25, 2016

Skilled people, not processes or new tools, create great products, according to an article on innovation by Lean Enterprise Institute researchers appearing in the Spring 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. “Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation,” by Michael Ballé, James Morgan, and Durward Sobek II, is part of a special report on product development.

“We learned from studying lean product development that people, not processes, make great products,” they write. “Until organizations view people as central and leaders act accordingly, the risk that development process improvement efforts will not improve anything is frighteningly high.” The article draws on the authors’ collective research and experiences in lean manufacturing and lean product development over the past two decades.

That evidence shows that people and people systems are the most important parts of a product development system, because people generate the knowledge necessary for innovation in new products, new manufacturing systems, and more robust supply chains. The authors recommend that companies ask three fundamental questions to improve developers’ skills and capabilities.

1. What do we need to learn about our customers, products, and production processes to design better products?

The lean product development process is geared toward introducing a constant stream of products at a steady rhythm (or, in lean terms, “takt”), as opposed to executing separate projects.

2. How do we learn what we need to know?

Improving the new product stream depends on individual or team competence solving immediate technical problems and interacting with what others are doing. A key way of learning is through “set-based concurrent engineering,” which encourages developers to generate differing theories about a problem early and test them until they are disproved or a clear winner emerges.

3. What organizational structures and routines will support the learning?

From a lean development perspective, the best processes encourage learning and teamwork rather than demanding adherence to a rigorously detailed workflow. The authors describe five overlapping phases of an effective lean development process.

To read about the phases and the rest of the article, please go to:

About the Authors

Michael Ballé, PhD, is an associate researcher at Télécom ParisTech’s Project Lean Enterprise, co-founder of the French Lean Institute, and an author with LEI. Part of his doctoral research focused on Toyota’s collaboration with a key supplier to improve product design and manufacturing. James Morgan, PhD, is a senior adviser to LEI on lean product and process development. He did doctoral research on Toyota’s product development system and later was a global engineering director at Ford, where he deepened his understanding of lean product development through an in-depth collaboration with Mazda. Durward Sobek II, PhD, is a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT, and an LEI faculty member. He also did doctoral research on Toyota’s product development system and continued to develop the concepts through experiments and observation in academic and industrial settings.

About Lean Product and Process Development

Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD) is an initiative of the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute with the mission to spread lean thinking and practice in product development across diverse industries. Led by Jim Morgan, it is helps companies around the world improve product development processes to create new and profitable value streams. Learn more at

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