John Bicheno reviews Bart Huthwaite’s The Lean Design Solution, Institute for Lean Innovation, Michigan.

Lean design is increasingly prominent, opening a long-neglected area, at least in some organisations, conferences, and publications. Whilst books on lean design are far less prominent than shop floor lean, the few tend to be of high quality. This book is no exception. ‘Design’ here means discrete product design, especially at the front end of concept and innovation rather than at the downstream 3P (production preparation process) end. It is certainly refreshing to find a book on lean design that does not use Toyota as the exemplar. Not everyone is in complex automotive design!

This 2007 book was recommended to me only recently by someone in our lean design interest group. What an opportunity has been missed since 2007!

Bart’s book is fun to read and has a number of unique insights and presentation twists. For example, he talks about the ‘Universal Lean Design Equation’ which is ‘Strategic Illities – Evil Ings = Lean Product Success. Wow! What does that mean? Well, the ‘illities’ are the eight primary customer values of performability, affordability, featureability, deliverability, useability, maintainability, durability and imageability. The wasteful ‘ings’ are a long list including scheduling, moving, training, tooling, certifying, inspecting, reworking, testing, monitoring, and supervising.

A central feature of the book is the five interacting ‘Laws’ of lean design. These fit very nicely into an input-output diagram. The Law of strategic value guides one to deliver the most important illities. The Law of waste prevention helps prevent wasteful ‘ings’ in design practice. The Law of marketplace pull gives a good discussion ‘wants and needs’ of the use of takt in design. The Law of innovation flow talks about ‘systematic innovation’ (this is a phrase that is used in the TRIZ community, but here there is no mention of TRIZ). There are five opportunities: functions, parts, materials, processes and people. And the Law of fast feedback is about metrics – both hard and soft. This is a useful section irrespective of whether you are in design or not, and is elaborated on in a later section on design scorecards.

Later, the seven essential design skills are discussed which elaborate on the Laws. Here there are numerous tips, sketches and check-lists. Then there are rules for kaizen design workshops. Finally, in an appendix, 23 Rules of Lean design are stated.

Along the way, Bart gives some fascinating cases, such as the Spitfire whose complex wing shape was a real pain to manufacture (complexity) emanating from its origins as a competition racing plane (sensitivity), and hand-fitted parts hampered fast repair (variability). These design flaws were gradually overcome resulting in 20,351 units eventually being made.

So, yes, the book is different. I required several passes to get around the Laws, the Skills, the Rules, and the many sub-sections and tips. Clearly, there are decades of experience in this book, that would benefit any design and marketing function. If you are concerned with design and innovation, and not in automotive, this book will give you many new insights and the occasional laugh.