The design community has the biggest lever

In sourcing, out sourcing, off shoring, on shoring – the manufacturing debate rages. So what’s the big deal? Jobs – the foundation of an economy. Jobs pay for things, important things like food, schools, and healthcare. No jobs, no economy. The end.

What does lean, the most successful manufacturing business methodology, have to say about all this? Lean’s fundamental:


Make it where you sell it


because the shortest supply chains are least wasteful. Dig the ore in-country, make the steel in-country, forge it, machine it, and sell it in-country. With, of course, some qualifiers, some important ifs:

  • If in-country demand is high enough to warrant the investment
  • If your company is big enough to pull it off
  • If quality can be assured.

All good, but I’m discouraged by what lean does not say:

  • Regardless of the country, engage the design community to reduce material cost and waste
  • Regardless of the factory, engage design community to make your factory output like two
  • Regardless of the industry, engage design community to reduce part count.

We all agree the design community has the biggest influence on cost and waste, yet they’re not part of the lean equation. That’s wasteful. That violates a fundamental. That makes me sad.

Let’s put aside our where-to-make-it arguments for a bit, and, wherever you make product,


Engage the design community in lean.

4 Responses to “The design community has the biggest lever”

  • Ed:


    I agree industrial design and NPD engineering are rarely included in the “lean” discussion at most companies. However, I am beside myself trying to figure out how to change this. Two things: 1) upper management view lean tools as a “production thing” and 2) I.D. and NPD are like alcoholics – you can’t fix the problem if you don’t recognize you have one. How do you propose one can crack the code on this? I have been a practitioner of lean concepts within manufacturing for more than a decade, yet our efforts have not advanced beyond our shop floor or those of our suppliers. Every attempt to engage designers and NPD engineering is met with passive apathy at best. How do we change this?

  • Mike:

    From Ed, “I agree industrial design and NPD engineering are rarely included in the “lean” discussion at most companies. However, I am beside myself trying to figure out how to change this.”

    Ed, the best way to make this happen is to find an engineering leader who has been charged with significantly reducing product cost. Then, since the leader does not know how to do it, explain how changing the product can radically reduce labor time and materials. Explain Design for Assembly and how it can reduce part count by 50% and labor content by 50%. That’s a good start. Mike

  • kenw:

    The answer to getting the design crew involved is to see things from their perspective. Show them how reducing waste can make their schedule happen by getting input now instead of later. Show them ways to reduce their development costs (the same ones that, btw, reduce production costs…). Show them how reducing mfg variability makes a more reliable product. Show them how using off-the-shelf components and tools means less drawings and documentation for them.

    In other words think like THEY think.

  • Mike:

    Thank you, Ken. Good perspective.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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