Review: Managing The Design Factory

Title: Managing the Design Factory Author: Donald Reinertsen Length: 288 pages Published: 1997 ISBN-10: 0684839911 ISBN-13: 9780684839912

This book analyzes product development processes from a lean perspective. The author starts by introducing the concept of a “design factory”, which shows the differences between lean principles applied to manufacturing and lean principles applied to creating new innovations. The key differences include information arrival processes and the repeatable versus non-repeatable.

One key takeaway from reading this book is that the goal of creating new things is not to reduce the variability of creating them. Having waste is actually often the most effective way to create something new because the “waste” generates information, which has value. If you are doing something that has a known problem statement and a known solution, you are essentially turning the design crank. Seek to increase throughput and increase flow before eliminating waste.

Much like Goldratt’s book, The Goal, Reinertsen focuses on viewing the company profitability as the lens to view business decisions through. He advocates modeling of projects and their intended ROI, preferring simple and useful models over opaque ones. He discusses many subjects from the perspective of how to optimize for development expense, unit costs, performance, or speed of development, which are mostly at odds with each other.

He has an interesting explication of queueing and information theory, and how these impact product development. One takeaway from the information theory topic is that information is inversely proportionate to the probability of an event occurring. This coincides with my views on generating models (similar to Popper’s views on the subject.) Essentially, tests should be written to have the maximum value if they fail. I believe Reinertsen would be a proponent of high level tests. He also contends that if your tests would cause a competitor’s product to fail, you are likely testing too much.

Overall, I found this book to be a compelling read with insights clearly stated and a strong overall theme.

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