Systems Thinking – Cadence

Today I want to talk about one of the key lean concepts, the concept of cadence. We’ve been talking about engineering efficiency and we’ve talked about getting projects off to a clean start. Today I want to talk about keeping projects moving forward and keeping a high level of engineering efficiency within projects. To do this let me talk first to Michael Kennedy’s concept of two value streams within product development. Mike’s thesis says there are two value streams — The knowledge value stream and the product value stream. Many of you will think of these as research and development.

In Mike’s concept all of the knowledge gaps, the things we need to learn to be successful in the projects we’re undertaking are the first things you do. You invest your upfront work to close the knowledge gaps. The second value stream is where you take all of your knowledge and march the development of the project to market. In the way Kennedy lays it out, the backend or value product stream can actually be put on a schedule or clock and run to hit time-to-market. The front end, the knowledge value stream, can’t be put on a schedule. You can’t put learning on a clock. You don’t know when the actual learning that necessary is going to occur.

So, how do you drive work in this upfront learning cycle of product development? The answer is simple. You use a recurring period. Many of you probably have a recurring meeting with your supervisor every week or every couple weeks. That recurring period is to keep things moving forward progressively. The same can be done with the work in engineering. The use of a regularly repeating periodic pattern is Cadence — a key Lean concept.

You can use Cadence in driving learning by putting in place short-term deadlines. This helps keep focus on the learning work that is being undertaken. It gives the people doing the learning or research a chance to demonstrate progress or get feedback. It also gives the supervisor of the researchers a chance to nudge them back on course if they’re moving off course and following a different bend or path that may be cutting into their straight-line path to engineering efficiency.

This concept of Cadence is used in product development in various places in various contexts. It’s used in Japan in what is called “integration Events.” The leader of a project will meet regularly with a team to check their progress and provide instruction for what should be included in the next cadence period. It’s used in software development. It is seen most clearly in the “sprint” of Scrum software development. Recently it’s also been used in hardware development. There is an emerging concept called “Time Boxing” which uses cadence as a way of keeping progress on track. We’ll be speaking more about Time Boxing in this series, but for now, just understand that if you’re interested in increasing your engineering efficiency from the pathetic levels that are standard in the US now to something that resembles a cost effective use of those resources — Time Boxing is really something that is worth investigating.


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