Lean Product Development

A primary objective of a manufacturer is building high-quality products that solve industry and/or specific customer design challenges. No matter the size of the company, this must be done at a profit or the business will ultimately fail. To ensure product development success (and revenue), designers utilize a number of tools to implement lean product development that ensures the product roadmap stays on course, on schedule, and on budget


Organizations with lean product development have integrated work teams with multiple competences and responsibilities. Lean development starts with the culture of organization and foundation of the company. The size of a company typically dictates its hierarchical corporate structure. Traditionally, large companies of more than 1000 employees use the conventional tall structure where one CEO governs all with a few vice presidents below them, and so on.

Other types of hierarchy structures include flat and holacratic, which remove layers within the organization. Many organizations are moving towards flatter structures, as this approach can more easily open up the lines of communication and collaboration, ultimately creating a leaner workforce. In addition, smaller companies typically are less resistant to changes, making it easier to adjust workflow patterns and become leaner. It’s easier to adjust course of a small vessel versus a large ship.


Increasing communication to all parties involved in a product development and introduction project — including internal employees, distributors, manufacturer representatives, and customers — streamlines new product introductions (NPIs) and leads to more influential products. By improving internal communication, each member of the team understands their role and responsibility. By enhancing touch points with industry partners, manufacturers can better understand the needs of customers and subsequently build a better product that meets those needs. Getting more data from each of these audiences leads to leaner product development. The more information a product development team has upfront before the start of the project, the better prepared they are, and the better product development results can be expected.

Get a Bigger Tool Box

There are many tools and procedures that can be utilized to create a culture of lean product development. Whichever workflow method you use — 5S, dashboards, SIPOC, Value Stream Mapping or many others — the lean objective is the same. The goal with mapping and checklists are to enhance the process implementation; understand the challenges; learn from any barriers; measure the success and failures; and update the processes when appropriate. The goal is to remove waste in the development process and provide visual transparency of every step of the road map or timeline.

Case Study: Implementing Lean Product Development

VCC is a recognized leader in the development and manufacturing of innovative light pipes, panel mount indicators for global markets including aerospace, food service, people movers, transportation, medical, telecom and industrial. With around 100 employees, VCC has a flat hierarchical structure and has created a culture of lean product development via transparency, knowledge sharing, team work and innovation. VCC utilizes several visual road maps and processes to ensure transparency throughout the organization. At its core, VCC uses X-matrix strategies to simplify and breakdown annual strategic goals, priorities and improvement targets. The “Helicopter” approach addresses long term and short term developmental process steps to ensure market factors, distributor feedback, rep and technical scouting, and university partner considerations are all taken into account. Weekly Pulse Meetings help VCC to digest all of this data and formulate sophisticated plans to move forward with product launches.

As a result, VCC has increased customer response and customer satisfaction. It has improved the new business development process with a 88% reduction in lead-time. In addition to faster product introduction, VCC has improved product activation processes with a 69% reduction in lead-time.

Sannah Vinding, Director of Product Development & Marketing at VCC, recently spoke about VCC’s lean product development accomplishments at the Lean Product & Process Development Exchange (LPPDE) 2016 event in Philadelphia. (http://www.lppde.org/)

Final Review

To successfully introduce lean product development into your organization, you have continue to work the method, continue to communicate, continue to improve, and continue updating the process. The main objective is to not only increase the number of new product introductions, but to increase the influence or importance of each NPI to the industry and your customers.

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