Lean Product Development ideas for your CAD problem – Part III

I want to quickly wrap up this series with a thumbnail view of the Lean Product Development process. That’s a bit of a misnomer as I don’t think there is a single Lean PD process. Usually it must be tailored heavily to your business, industry, and team.

One striking difference between a Lean PD process and what most of us are used to:
Say goodbye to the GANTT chart!

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll note that I always counsel folks to get FEA and CFD simulation milestones on the GANTT chart if they really want CAE to seep into the DNA of their culture.

I won’t stop preaching that, despite my interest in Lean PD. Why?
Because most of you still have to operate within a decidedly non-lean PD process!

In a Lean PD process, people are not driven by tiny interconnected bars and tasks on a GANTT chart. Subsystem teams are instead given a much smaller number of “integrating events” for a timeline.

The problem with GANTT chart based PD processes is they provide a false sense of security for project managers, and they do not allow for the “oopsies” that always occur. Think about the last time you went through a project that followed the defined project plan without a major problem that caused the team to scrap parts of what they are working on to circle back for major rework. Pretty rare, huh?!

This style of PD also closes off innovation. Engineers are forced to pick a single solution early on and drive that forward to complete all the assigned tasks in the PD process. In fact, getting to 100% completion on your part of the GANTT chart starts to become the definition of Engineering for many… yuck!

In contrast, a Lean PD process calls for subsystem teams to develop as many early phase concepts for a solution as possible. None of these have to be fleshed out to completion in the early stages. A lot of early work will go into many solutions in parallel. You’ve ideas ranging from “easy conservative, in my back pocket” solutions to “crazy, reaching, innovative” solutions.

In Lean PD, teams will define all these ideas and start to down select and combine. One of my favorite terms in Lean PD is, “wait until the last responsible moment” to pick a go-forward solution.

How does this apply to CAD? Well, despite what the “detailed design and final documentation” CAD companies would have you believe, CAD is absolutely the wrong tool to use for that kind of early concepting. Stepping into CAD at this stage will slow everything to a screeching halt due to the constrained nature of CAD and the focus on final detailed documentation. Also, using a CAD tool for this kind of work means that you will need to have a skilled CAD draftsperson on the team to do the work. That cuts out an awful lot of smart engineers on the team from participating.

SpaceClaim’s Co-founder, Blake Courter, says it best when he describes the value of SpaceClaim for teams using a Lean Product Development process:

“SpaceClaim allows Lean PD teams to wait until the last responsible moment
to commit to final, detailed design CAD tasks.”

I can’t really explain Lean PD processes in a couple of blog posts. If you are really interested, I highly recommend you pick up Product Development for the Lean Enterprise by Michael Kennedy. This is considered the bible of Lean PD by many, and is surprisingly fun to read… seriously, it’s fun.