Terms like Lean, Six Sigma, and Continuous Improvement have become normal everyday jargon in the world of manufacturing, but yet they remain far less adopted in the world of product development.

Is this because of a lack of understanding? Or perhaps a lack of focus on new product development? Or maybe just a reality of fewer number of products developed inside organizations versus manufactured or developed products simply being acquired? Are these reasons good enough to not make an incredibly important process for the growth and sustainability of an organization better? 

So how do you improve a process that simply produces data or documentation as opposed to physical goods like in manufacturing? Simple, approach it the same way.

In the world of Lean manufacturing you begin by learning the 8 wastes:

1. Defects
2. Overproduction
3. Waiting
4. Non-Utilized Talent
5. Transportation
6. Inventory
7. Motion
8. Extra Processing

Once you have identified the wastes, you work to reduce these wastes. Similar wastes exist in the Product Development Process as well, check out a more in depth infogram here.

One could argue that each one of the 8 wastes of Lean exist just as much in the Product Development Process as it does in any manufacturing process. Furthermore, Ronald Masticelli in Mastering Lean Product Development identifies additional wastes in the Product Development process as: 

1. Chaotic Work Environment
2. Lack of available resources
3. Lack of clear prioritized projects
4. Poor Communication
5. Poorly Defined Requirements
6. Disruptive Changes to requirements
7. Lack of early consideration for manufacturability
8. Over-design, analysis paralysis, gold plating
9. To Many Meetings
10. Email Overload

Can you relate to these? Are these the same as the 8 wastes of manufacturing? 

What about Six Sigma?

Easily defined through the six steps of Six Sigma, outlined by the acronym DMAIC

D – Define
M -Measure
A – Analyze
I – Improve
C – Control

So how does this relate to Product Development? The DMAIC process is a mirror image, or rather an identical process to a solid product development process, or rather any process where a problem needs to be solved. Check out these videos for a more detailed process approach to Product Development. 

Finally, the overarching and broader explanation of Continual Improvement. This is an exciting topic for the world of product development right now with the increasing popularity of an Agile approach to product development.

Agile was first popularized in software development where it takes an iterative approach to development working in short sprints in order to get the product in front of the customer quicker, get feedback, make improvements, and then iterating the design.

With the massive improvements in small batch manufacturing, manufacturing equipment and the popularity of maker spaces it is becoming more and more popular to take an Agile approach to not just software development but now physical product development. With these resources so readily available and an Agile approach to product development there is a clear correlation between Product Development and Continual Improvement. 

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