Lean Product Development

Precursors to Lean – Mediterranean Ship Building?

Arsenal Venice shipbuilding.JPG

From 1899-1905,

The Wright Brothers invented Knowledge Based Development (Lean Product & Process Development), evolved from their goal to study and advance the knowledge of flight.

At the same time, some shipbuilding references exhibited elements of lean practice (if you do your research, you’ll notice some non-lean elements also):

From 1899-1902,

HMS Dreadnought British Battleship 1906.jpg

"The Royal Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth could build more rapidly than any other private or naval yard. Portsmouth's record building time for a battleship was 31 months; Fisher wanted the Dreadnought built in 12.

-          7 hull models were built and tested. A shape was found which would require only 23,000 horsepower, not 28,000 as expected to drive 17,000 tons through the water at 21 knots, carrying 10 twelve inch guns, each capable of hurling an 850 lb. projectile.

Novelty was introduced as simplicity. Saving in lead time was achieved by standardization.

On December 11, 1906, 3 weeks short of Fisher's accelerated schedule, H.M.S. Dreadnought was accepted into the Royal Navy.  10 months from launching to full commissioning in the navy had never been equaled in the history of capital ships."


Mediterranean Galley.JPG

In 1400,

at the 46 hectare Arsenale di Venezia (Venice) dockyard, a production capacity of 6 galleys/ month was reached by the 1500’s.  They standardized ships, developed a new galley using less timber, and a standard frame.  Production occurred onsite for rope & armoury.  Modular construction and elements of one piece flow were also used.   Multiple designs were produced including the Mediterranean Brigantine, Galiot, Fusta, and Galea Bastarda.  At its peak in the 1600s the dockyard was turning out 1 ship a day.

what problem do I have in my product development process?

Each year or so we find a common challenge seems to stand out that companies pursuing lean are wrestling with to drive their performance.  It continues for a time period as the general aspect to be solved for several companies in the lean community, immersed in it’s learning, and sharing our progress across industries to learn from each other.

Executing through this ‘theme’ as it unfolds maintains our evolution with business practices as they evolve;

(and further away from the outdated MBA/conventional practices most gravitate to,
who hope to gain a different competitive advantage by using the same thinking as everyone else.
Conventional companies following this “1950's thinking” experience a predictable cyclical decline years later (or sooner), and all wrestle with ‘cost cutting’ practices they pursue which don't address the core problem they have).

Around 8 years ago we found it was senior managements requirement to lead their lean growth strategy.

Then 3P.   
In the last few years it was lean product & process development to drive revenue -  we focused on establishing cadence doubling new product introductions with our companies.

This year it seems to be

"what problem do I have in my product development process?"

(whatever that may be, some realizing for the 1st time what they did actually was a process - however they cobbled it together);

and now further upstream "what is the problem I need to solve in sales?"

Documented examples of Lean Product and Process Development

Documented examples of Lean Product & Process Development can be found for:



IT industry


- Intel

(who has run internal Lean development conferences annually for at least 7 years)

HP logo












- Ping Golf




Motor industry:

harley davidson logo.JPG

- Harley Davidson

(when facing bankruptcy adopted Lean Product & Process development turned around company)



- Toyota



- Honda




- Ford

(turned around company so no bail out taken)



- Goodyear






o   Delphi Automotive Systems Rochester Technical Center

o   Denso

Donnelly Group

o   Donnelly Corporation (now Magna Donnelly)

o   Kongsberg Automotive

o   Magna



Heavy Industry


- Vermeer




- Scania R&D Operations

(a comparable modular version)


- Atlas Copco



Other Highly Suspect


- Danaher

(any of their 400+ acquisitions since lean is their growth model)

HON logo




- Ariens Company


- Yanmar Diesel


- Deere & Co. (John Deere)




- Nissan



watlow logo

- Watlow Electric


lockheed skunk works

- Lockheed Skunk Works




saab defence systems

- Saab Electronic Defense Systems


- Yamaha Motorcycles



Lean Product & Process Development Results

Since the resurgence of LPPD (Lean Product & Process Development) it has only been applied by the most forward thinking businesses, threatening their competitors (to the point of bankruptcy as seen in the auto industry).  Several of these have stemmed from its evolution within Toyota. 

For example, Ward’s work in design automation spurred interest in finding out whether any human engineers used set based design, which he discovered at Toyota.  Companies started taking interest in these methods and Ward’s consulting.

A lean thinker himself, he noted his constraints from commercial airline routes & schedules and purchased an airplane better serve clients by improving his ability to travel between client sites.  HP’s printer division was receiving his coaching, and on the way to provide a workshop a fateful crash occurred.  It would be interesting to find out if HP still uses what they were learning.

Companies have been slow to adopt current practices, despite results available from them that eclipse conventional development practices which can be:

  •   Fourfold reduction in development time & resources
  •   Reducing the risk of quality problems, schedule & cost overruns, and failed product up to 10
  •   Up to a tenfold increase innovation
  •   Reuse of production systems & parts, slashing/dropping/felling capital costs and improving quality

 “one company piloted some of the above principles on one of their key projects and was able to reduce the project time from 24 to 16 months, with less than half the engineering changes, while meeting their quality and cost goals.”



“It is possible to manage, standardize and continuously improve the product development process as long as there is a solid understanding of, and allowances are made for, those characteristics of the product development environment that are indeed unique.  Adler's 1998 research on the product development process has shown that achieving traditional manufacturing process improvement goals such as reducing variation, relieving process bottlenecks, eliminating rework, and managing capacity, can reduce development times by as much as 30% to 50%.” 


Some examples here (to be posted)