The Kano Cupholder Conundrum: How well do you know which features actually sell your product?


“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is how the old saying goes that illustrates the vast diversity of the human concept of value.  What is essential to some is meaningless to others, which represents the most perplexing challenge of product definition and portfolio management.  Even if you could put every feature possible into a product, research has shown over and over again that only a critical few will affect the customer’s purchase decision.

The automobile cupholder is the perfect example of a product feature that was considered an afterthought by most, but which actually held tremendous power over the consumer, sometimes holding the important distinction of “dealbreaker” if missing or poorly executed.  The challenge for product developers is to find a systematic way to focus scarce innovation resources on these powerful features and minimize time wasted on insignificant others.

The “Kano” customer satisfaction model, named after it’s creator, Noriaki Kano, was created to help product developers analyze their product around how customers view important features.  At it’s basic level, the premise is that most features fall under one of three categories:

  1. “Must Have” features are basic necessities and requirements of a product.  For example, tires are a “must have” feature of a car.
  2. “One-Dimensional” features are those with variable performance where value and price can increase when the performance increases.  In a car, one could consider engine horsepower to be this type of feature.
  3. “Attractive” features are those which can greatly delight and even “excite” the customer.  This is where you can get the most surprises, such as a simple and low-cost feature like cupholders or when heated seats were first introduced to cold climate drivers.

By doing a formal Kano exercise, including customer surveying and data plotting/mapping, one can quickly identify areas to focus on which will affect the bottom line and help teams make better decisions on critical design tradeoffs and investments.

If you’d like to learn more about the Kano model and how to make it work for you, Management Roundtable is offering a free webinar on June 10, 2015, “Kano Innovation Collaborative: Finding True Differentiators – Making More Profitable Products.”  Follow the link provided for more information and to register for this session.



How do Agile Software Development Practices Translate to Hardware Development?

In this short video segment, Andrew McCaskey of SDRNews speaks with TechZecs‘ Scott Elliott on the latest successful efforts to apply best practices in agile software development to physical product development environments.  Scott answers such questions as how scrum and other techniques are adapted and applied outside of the software realm and on hardware components such as ASICS design.  You’ll also hear how advancements in prototyping have accelerated R&D cycles, a key factor in achieving lean product development.


Wherefore art thou “Lean Product Development”?

shakespeare-bigAs “agile” software development practices spread into all aspects of standard product development, and latching onto the “lean” label, it is often a valuable exercise to try and get a better understanding of where something comes from, how it has evolved and what’s different today.

While what is generally understood today as “Lean Manufacturing” can be linearly sourced to post WWII Japan, Toyota, Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo et al, components of lean existed prior to this from numerous manufacturing revolutionaries such as Fred Taylor, Henry Ford and many others.  Even so, the “Toyota Production Method” is the dominant force in Lean Manufacturing.  Product development and engineering, by contrast, doesn’t yet seem to have settled on a stable definition of its methods.

When it comes to using lean/agile concepts in managing engineering projects and product development, there is, in fact, a defined lineage.  While it is impossible to cover every possible contribution and attribution to the “Lean PD” body of knowledge, here we’ll attempt to at least uncover the major players responsible and the current state of its affairs.

At the beginning of the Lean Product Development movement sometime in the mid- to late- 1990s, most proponents logically began with trying to replicate the Toyota model, attempting to find analogues between manufacturing and engineering.  However, many soon realized that the inherent differences between the two rejected wholesale mimicry, which opened the door for an evolution of the practices to include related management techniques, such as Six Sigma, DFM/A, Theory of Constraints, Agile Software methods and other bodies of thought.  Complicating matters further was the friction from recently entrenched phase gate systems, splitting managements already short attention span.

In the current iteration, what seems to be gaining the most traction is Lean/Agile methods as characterized by someone like Mary Poppendieck, augmented with  sound economic-leaning lean product development principles, as characterized by the work of Don Reinertsen and the late Preston SmithTheory of Constraints, or, more specifically, Critical-Chain Project Management, has it’s place as well in the Lean PD toolbox.  As evidence, there are also new software products being released to help NPD teams embed these principles in their workflow practices.

Two key pieces of Lean Product Development are the time/speed and economic dimensions that guide decision making.  Concepts such as “cost of delay” which assign dollar values to schedule setbacks provide managers with a more clear cut perspective on how to employ scarce resources without harming the bottom line.   Similarly, using critical chain methods, many projects avoid multitasking that elongates task duration and focusing workflow to be more effective at meeting deadlines.

Lastly, tools that provide visual representations of project management, “Haijunka boxes” for engineering so to speak, can greatly speed up communication among team members and even automate task management.  We predict more software tools and mobile apps to more greatly enable this in the near future.

It has taken several years, but “Lean Product Development” seems like it is settling down to a more finite set of principles that may gain the wide acceptance of it’s manufacturing sibling.  As software invades more and more products and companies are forced to adopt more and more software development capabilities, this melding of the Agile software and traditional Lean PD world has produced a hybrid that is gaining notice and popularity, and may finally push Lean Product Development to more of the forefront.

Want to learn more about Agile/Lean PD in Practice?

Attend our upcoming webinar:
Lean and Agile Methods and Tools for Product Development:
How Arthrex Corporation Cut Development Time by 50%

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 / 1:00-2:00pm ET


Steelcase’s Lean Journey: There and Back Again

SteelcaseOfficeOffice furniture maker, Steelcase, Inc., has been on one heck of a journey in both Lean Manufacturing and Lean Product Development.  We’ve been following their progress for a number of years and now have an opportunity to get an update on where they stand today in an upcoming webinar with Steelcase’s internal ” Office Lean Consultant,” Tim Schipper, who has worked in multiple positions at the company, including CAD, product engineering and IT, before settling into his current role in their Lean Management Office approximately 10 years ago.

One unique aspect of Steelcase’s history with Lean Product Development is that it was originally driven by their Information Technology group who wanted to keep pace with and support the lean transformation going on in manufacturing.  From there, it was a less painful task to move lean improvement efforts to the development area and IT’s lessons learned proved invaluable to the product development office.  (See the form at the bottom of this post to request a copy of our article from 2005, “THE LEARNING CYCLE: Steelcase’s Journey from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Product Development”)

timschipperMuch has happened since their early days and Steelcase has refined their lean product development into a self-feeding system they call “Rapid Learning Cycles,” which closes knowledge gaps easier and speeds up innovation.  Tim Schipper will be talking about his company’s methods in an upcoming free webinar from Management Roundtable:

 Apply Rapid Learning Cycles to Development
with guest speaker Tim Schipper, LEAN Management Office, Steelcase, Inc.
Thursday, April 17, 2014 – 1:00 – 2:00 PM ET
Click HERE to register for this free session

Request a copy of our article: “The Learning Cycle: Steelcase’s Journey from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Product Development””

This webinar is being produced in conjunction with the “Lean Product Development Summit” being held August 19-21, 2014 on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Product developers to gather at San Francisco Tech Shop to chart the impact of 3D Printing

3D printing is absolutely everywhere right now.
I’ve seen news articles about the wings printed for Victoria Secret lingerie models, 3D printed body parts and pizza and even McDonalds interest in using the printers in their restaurant chain. More and more companies with traditional manufacturing and prototyping methods are increasingly asking themselves: “When is the right time to start paying REAL attention to this?” That time is, apparently, yesterday.

See our previous article with links to additional resources
on 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing.

robotic-hand-graphicWhile everyone agrees the field is exploding and cemented into our future, the acceleration of technology is quickly outpacing the attention span of in-the-trenches NPD professionals trying to eke out every last bit of efficiency from their outdated development systems. At a workshop conducted by Management Roundtable (MRT) in Chicago last October, representatives from various companies including Kellog’s, Federal Express and Monsanto, among others, shared their perspectives and current challenges with 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing in the real life business environment, things such as:

  • What are the real business opportunities that this technology opens up and what are the negative tradeoffs?
  • How are most companies currently using 3D printers, and what levels of resources do they dedicate to them?
  • How can 3D printing change your relationship with the customer and how can it improve quality and customer satisfaction?
  • How does the technology correlate into expanding into new markets or improving current market share?

MRT will be conducting this workshop again on March 6, 2014 at the San Francisco location of Tech Shop, a chain where members of the public can have access to and experiment with industrial tools and equipment. See the video above for a quick look at 3D printing at Tech Shop. During this workshop, participants will benefit primarily from:

  • Exclusive participation in the additive manufacturing maturity model benchmarking session
  • Hands-on exercises using 3D printing technology to solve a real product development challenge.

Product development professionals of all industries are invited to join in this important conversation with their peers, as they search for real world answers and existing best practices for this emerging field and how to best make the transition and avoid being left far behind.


Gregg Tong
Management Roundtable, Inc.

Our new blog: MRTplus

Even old stage-gate dogs can learn some new tricks…

OldDogToday over 75% of US firms are using some flavor of the Stage-Gate process created by Dr. Robert G. Cooper over 25 years ago.  In that time it has been credited with positive accolades such as fueling US economic turnarounds and boosting new product success rates, as well as harshly criticized for increasing bureaucracy and creating roadblocks for innovation.  The truth of the matter is likely somewhere in the middle.

An age old business aphorism applies here: “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”  In R&D processes there simply is no one dimensional “Plug and Play” solution.  Schools of thought such as Stage-Gate, Concurrent Engineering, Lean, Agile, Spiral and Theory of Constraints are more similar than dissimilar and one would be best off borrowing what makes sense from all of them than following one plan’s instruction manual verbatim.

The biggest mistake people have made about Stage-Gate is thinking that it has not evolved.  The method’s creator, Dr. Robert G. Cooper, has spent a great deal of his career improving and refining his techniques to stay in tune with current technologies as well as business economics.  He travels the world visiting companies using his methods, studying their results and updating his toolset.  Understanding that time-based competition and speed-to-market are constants in the NPD formula, Dr. Cooper has focused primarily on methods for accelerating development processes to meet the demanding pace of today’s markets.

Dr. Cooper’s latest thinking focuses on a few critical aspects of product development, based on his research and hands-on experience with numerous global Fortune 500 firms.  He calls his latest augments the “Triple A Idea-to-Launch” system, which encompasses:

  • A1 – Adaptive and Flexible
    • Spiral development for rapid customer feedback
    • Scaling the Stage-Gate process to fit the scope of the project
    • Gates integrated with portfolio management
  • A2 – Agile
    • Using value stream analysis and removing unnecessary tasks
    • Integrating Agile techniques with Stage-Gate
  • A3 – Accelerated
    • Finding overlap opportunities for concurrent development
    • Proper assignment of resources and use of cross-functional teams
    • Robust system for defining product requirements on the “fuzzy front end”

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Cooper’s latest thoughts and augmentations to the Stage-Gate process and what it takes to set up your own “Triple A I2L” system, he will be speaking at a free webinar presented by Management Roundtable – see link below for details and online registration.


Will the 3D printer become the newest “Machine that Changed the World”?

I’ve been watching 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing for almost 20 years, when we used to refer to it as “rapid prototyping” and “stereolithography.”
  The industry has seemed somewhat dormant over that time, but as it matures and breaks free from the realm of “potential” into the role of “game changer,” it’s Q rating and industry mind-share are at an all time high.

In the short video above from GE, you’ll see a quick rundown on how additive manufacturing works, some samples of the types of wares it can produce, and a few of the top level business benefits for product development and engineering.  Back in the day, people used to hype the technology’s high ceiling of benefits the same way they do today, but now the economics, the sophistication as well as the need for it seems to currently be in a place that is brewing its respective “perfect storm” and putting us on the doorstep of something special.  It’s been a long wait, but the payoff may be worth it.

We are not as far from the Jetson’s future of a replicator in every house as it would seem.


To help you get up to speed with the latest trends, research and industry figures regarding how 3D printing, along with Big Data and the Internet of Things, could create a new industrial revolution, we’ve compiled some links to web resources and a couple recent white papers that will help you round out the big picture of what this could mean to your business and industry.

There are also 2 white papers that can be sent to you via email on request using the form below.  These white papers are:

  • Additive Manufacturing: Turning Mind into Matter (May 2013) by Neil de Beer for Sierra College/CACT.  This report describes the background and current trends of AM, covering a brief historical account of the past year; discussions on new applications for different industry groups; and ending off with a discussion on the emerging DIY maker community and a host of new business models that are challenging conventional ways of product development and distribution
  • Additive Manufacturing: Status and  Opportunities (March 2012) by Justin Scott, Nayanee Gupta, Christopher Weber,  Sherrica Newsome, Terry Wohlers, and Tim Caffrey for the Institute for Defense Analyses.  This paper provides a general overview of the AM industry, it’s opportunities, weaknesses and recommendations for future progress.