Lean Product Development Principles and Practices

Lean Product Development (LPD) is based on lean thinking and lean principles that originally were developed in lean manufacturing. Lean thinking refers to a way of thinking and specific practices the emphasize less of everything – less resources, less work-in-process, less time, and less cost – to produce something, either a physical product, knowledge product (e.g. product design), or service product. The five Lean Thinking Principles are:

  • Define and maximize customer value
  • Identify the value stream and eliminate waste
  • Make the value-creating steps flow
  • Empower the team
  • Learn and improve

When we compare lean manufacturing with lean product development, these are the differences.

Characteristic Production Process Product Development Process
“Thing” Worked On Materials, Parts & Products Information & Documents
Activities Fabrication, Assembly & Test Definition, Acquisition, Transformation & Integration
Deliverable Physical Product Product Definition


These are the lean product development practices to apply the lean thinking principles to product development.

First Principle: Define Value to the Customer

  1. Voice of the Customer research provides the information to understand customer needs and what customers value. Throughout development, it’s important to maintain focus on what is of value to the customer.
  2. Quality Function Deployment transforms customer needs into product specifications and plans oriented to maximizing the customer value proposition.
  3. Lean Design minimizes waste (high cost and poor quality) and maximize value in the design of the product. Lean design is based on target costing, design to cost, design for manufacturability/assembly, and other design for excellence (DFX) factors that are important to delivering what ciustomers value and what will enhance firm profitability.
  4. Platforms and Design Re-Use to reduce the non-recurring cost of development, increase product value, and enable smaller batch sizes (less non-recurring product development effort).
  5. Rapidly Explore Alternatives is important to develop more optimal solutions to maximize customer value. Set-based design explores alternatives in parallel, gradually narrowing alternatives until the solution emerges.

Second Principle: Identify the Value Stream and Reduce Waste

  1. Streamline the Development Process to avoid unnecessary gates,process steps, and procedures. Eliminate bureacracy and use value stream mapping to eliminate waste.
  2. 5S Workplace organizes workplace and data to minimize time needed to find information and perform development activities. Tools such as product lifecycle management (PLM) helps organize product data, controls access, manages configuration, and makes product data easier to find all supporting 5S objectives.
  3. Standardized Work establishes a common way of doing things – standard process, document templates, checklists, etc.
  4. Integration of Design Tools (e.g., CAD/CAE/CAM) facilitates data exchange, improves the process and reduces cycle time.

Third Principle: Make the Value Creating Steps Flow

  1. Pipeline Management avoids overloading the pipeline, controls release of work, and prevents buildup of product development work-in-process and queue time.
  2. Flow Process and Pull Scheduling pulls work in a steady flow when resources are available (Kanban). Team planning and visual management provide a better understanding of development status and required actions. Lean to work with incomplete information which allows work to begin earlier and activities to be done more in parallel.
  3. Reduce Batch Sizes through standardization and platform development which allows a smoother flow and more level staffing.
  4. Synchronize Activities frequently with project team members and use tools like design structure matrix to understand interactions and visual management techniques to determine status and issues.
  5. Defer Commitment where appropriate to keep options open and respond to change, avoiding premature decisions and generating greater customer value.

Fourth Principle: Empower the Team

  1. Cross-Functional Team is a way to create a workcell with required disciplines to more rapidly conduct development activities. A team improves communication, coordination, and collaboration especially when collocated as in a workcell.
  2. Workforce Empowerment enables teams to plan their own projects and determine how to best provide value to the customer. Team memebers should be the closest to understanding the customer, the product technology, and the production process to be in the best position to judge how to deliver value to the customer and the company (i.e, profitability).
  3. Right Resources in terms of the right number of people, at the right times, and with the right skills and experience enable lean product development.

Fifth Principle: Learn and Improve

  1. Amplify Learning by capturing knowledge, organizing knowledge and information, and making it readily available to others to avoid costly and time-consuming re-learning. Create knowledge bases, design guidelines, cost tables, performance curves, etc. Capture lessons learned. Undertake a like product and process review to identify issues and learning early in a project.

In looking at common product development objectives, here is how these LPD practices and tools relate to supporting these objectives.