The Four Pillars Framework

Michael Kennedy published Product Development for the Lean Enterprise in 2003. It was the first time that literature emerged regarding Toyota’s huge success with their Product Development Process. The book is about a company in distress that adopts new principles modeled after Toyota’s product development process and eventually the company emerges from the crisis leveraging a better way to develop products. Kennedy’s book was written as a companion to Allen Ward’s book, Lean Product and Process Development.

These books provide insight into the way Toyota develops products through what is called the 4 Pillar Framework. Each of the following framework elements has a distinct role in their product development process.

1. Entrepreneurial System Designer (Chief Engineer)

At Toyota, the “Project Manager” is called the Chief Engineer, and the discipline of project leadership is significantly different. Upper management passes the Chief Engineer a very high level concept of what’s to be developed and it is the Chief Engineer’s job to figure out how to execute and turn that concept into a product. The Chief Engineer leads both the marketing effort and the execution of the project. This single individual is responsible both for developing the concept of the product and for the project’s execution. In this case, there is no loss of knowledge in the hand off between marketing and manufacturing. It results in a valuable and realistic product concept — a balance point between what will serve the market well and what can be realized by corporate capabilities.

2. Teams of responsible experts

The project work is executed by teams of responsible experts. The key here is that the individuals are delegated actual responsibility, not just tasks. The Japanese see the product as a system and organize a series of teams around the product’s sub-systems. All stakeholders groups of a subsystem will serve on the module development team, and get together negotiate subsystem goals based upon individual groups’ knowledge and needs. These goals support the goals (initially set by the Chief Engineer) of the system as a whole.

3. Cadence, Pull, Flow

These, you may notice, are the key principles of Lean Manufacturing. It is important to recognize that Lean Product Development and Lean Manufacturing do in fact share common roots. With Japanese Lean Product Development, visual management plays a key role in the Cadence, Pull, and Flow of a project.

Toyota uses what is called an Obeya (literally, “big room”) that acts as a project war room. This room contains everything a group of stakeholders may need to facilitate rapid decision-making throughout the lifetime of the project.

4. Set based concurrent engineering

This is a design approach that may pursue multiple concurrent technical solutions to a single design problem. Knowledge developed in the various pursuits is fully captured graphically in A3s and is available for later reuse. This approach recognizes the value in using projects to drive the research and development of design concepts. And though only one design approach will be chosen to serve the driving project, the others will emerge more deeply understood and poised for use in later projects.  Some would argue that more is learned during a failure than a success and this approach captures the knowledge learned during those instances. Set based design eliminates the problem of rework loopbacks which are a prime culprit in extending product time to market.

At EAC, we want to change the way you think about product development. We want to inject these ideas into your standard product development operation that will open a path to operating in a better way. Both the books listed above are excellent sources to keep this conversation going. Check them out and comment below.