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Journal ArticleDOI

Beyond theory: An examination of lean new product introduction practices in the UK

01 Nov 2007-Vol. 221, Iss: 11, pp 1593-1600

Abstract: Interest is growing around the application of lean techniques to new product introduction (NPI). Although a relatively emergent topic compared with the application of ‘lean’ within the factory, since 2000 there has been an exponential rise in the literature on this subject. However, much of this work focuses on describing and extolling the virtues of the ‘Toyota approach’ to design. Therefore, by way of a stock take for the UK, the present authors' research has set out to understand how well lean product design practices have been adopted by leading manufacturers. This has been achieved by carrying out in-depth case studies with three carefully selected manufacturers of complex engineered products. This paper describes these studies, the detailed results and subsequent findings, and concludes that both the awareness and adoption of practices is generally embryonic and far removed from the theory advocated in the literature.

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1
Beyond theory: An examination of Lean New Product Introduction
practices in the UK
Baines, T
1
., Williams, G
2
., Lightfoot, H
1
. and Evans, S
1
.
1
Department of Manufacturing, Cranfield University, Beds.
2
Head of Performance & Improvement, Airbus UK Ltd, Broughton.
Correspondence to:
Tim Baines
Professor of Strategic Manufacture
Department of Manufacturing, Building 50
Cranfield University
Bedfordshire
MK 43 OAL
t.s.baines@cranfield.ac.uk
01234 750111 x 5484

1
Beyond theory: An examination of Lean New Product Introduction practices in the UK
Abstract
Interest is growing around the application of Lean techniques to New Product Introduction (NPI). Although
a relatively emergent topic compared to the application of Lean within the factory, since 2000 there has
been an exponential rise in the literature on this subject. However, much of this work focuses on
describing and extolling the virtues of the ‘Toyota approach’ to design. Therefore, by way of a stock take
for the UK, our research has set out to understand how well Lean product design practices have been
adopted by leading manufacturers. This has been achieved by carrying out in-depth case studies with
three carefully selected manufacturers of complex engineered products. This paper describes these
studies, the detailed results and subsequent findings, and concludes that both the awareness and
adoption of practices is generally embryonic and far removed from the theory advocated in the literature.
1. Introduction
Manufacturing industry remains a vital part of the UK economy, employing approximately 3.5 million
people across a diverse range of companies. There is a wealth of initiatives targeted at sustaining the
competitiveness of UK companies and, within manufacturing operations, the most prominent and
successful of these is the application of Lean. The term ‘Lean manufacturing’ can be traced back to John
Krafcik [1] and the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP). Most people see the genesis of Lean
principles as the Toyota Production System, however, the origins of a Lean style of production are
apparent in the work of Henry Ford and earlier (Ford, 1922 [2]; Ford, 1926 [3]). Ford developed many
techniques that today would be associated with Lean, including single-piece-material-flow and Kaizen.
The following quotation is taken from Ford in the 1920s and is just one example of his obsession with
reducing ‘waste’ in production.
“Every extra motion, every trivial waste of time on the part of any workman must be eliminated. It is the
solution to this problem of “waste motion” both with men and machines, which to a very large degree
makes it possible for Ford to put on the market such a high grade car at such an extremely low price”
The work of Ford influenced Toyota. Taiichi Ohno, a Toyota plant manager and practitioner, developed a
number of tools to ensure the principles of Lean were adopted. As Hines et al [4] note, the process of
Lean manufacturing remained in the Far East and Japan for two decades and only began to filter out to
other countries during the 1970s when Toyota, Nissan and Kawasaki began to use Western suppliers for
parts. They imparted their knowledge to develop their supply chains and so passed on their working
practices. However, it still took many years for Lean practices to be adopted by western companies and it
was not until ‘The Machine That Changed The World’ [1] was published that Western manufacturers really
began to develop Lean practices.
Lean principles are usually associated with to the ‘operations’ of a manufacturing enterprise, such as
processes of material supply, component production, and delivery of products and services to the
customer. However, authors such as Womack and Jones [5] see that ‘Lean thinking’ can also be applied
to great effect outside manufacturing operations although examples of this, such as applications in
service-based enterprises, remain relatively rare. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the application of

2
Lean principles beyond the shop floor represents a significant opportunity for improvements in
competitiveness. One area of growing interest is Lean New Product Introduction (NPI). Over the past six
years the number of articles on this topic have grown exponentially (see Baines et al [6]) and, although still
relatively few, they are sufficient to articulate a basic set of practices for a company wishing to implement
Lean in the design office. These practices include, for example, a set-based approach to design, a key
leadership role of the Chief Engineer, and specific methods of standardisation in information management.
However, much of the existing knowledge base on Lean NPI is based on articulating the practices that
Toyota has found to be successful. Little is known about the extent to which these practices are being
adopted by UK based manufacturers and so it is difficult to define what further research is necessary on
this topic.
The question therefore arises as to how advanced are UK manufacturers with regard to the
implementation of Lean in New Product Introduction? Of particular interest are those companies that can
be thought of as leaders in design and can be expected to be advanced in the adoption of new practices.
Likewise, investigating those manufacturers who deal with relatively complex engineered products is likely
to be more revealing of the challenges that may exist to implementing Lean NPI. This paper therefore
describes research based on detailed case studies of three UK based manufacturers. The findings from
these studies generally reveal that practice significantly lags theory. They indicate that the automotive
sector is leading in the application of Lean NPI, Aerospace is following, with more general engineering
being slowest to adopt these techniques. Indeed, in some instances Lean NPI may be lagging by as
much as 10 - 15 years. Although the results of any case-based research can only be considered as
generally indicative, there is little to suggest that our results are unrepresentative. Indeed, we are
confident in our findings and in our overall conclusion presented at the end of this paper, in that UK
manufacturers still have some way to go in their journey towards Lean NPI.
The paper begins by describing the research design for this study and in particular justifying the case
study methodology and selection of companies. A short description is then given of each of the three
companies studied along with a brief insight to their current Lean activities. The cases are then analysed
and the key findings drawn.
2. Research methodology
2.1 Case study design
This study has focussed on gaining an in-depth and reliable understanding of the actual practices of UK
manufacturers. A popular approach taken by researchers in studying such practices is to rely on
questionnaire based survey work. However, while competent survey methods may be applied by the
researchers, busy practitioners rarely treat these data collection methods with the necessary precision
needed to give reliable indications of actual practices. Often such techniques have to rely on the opinions,
perceptions and judgments of one or two junior people within a factory. Hence, even when the statistical
analysis is reliable the results may not be. This was of particular concern in this study as the phenomenon
of Lean NPI is emergent and not yet well understood. A more robust approach is to visit a selection of
companies, carefully chosen to be a representative sample, and to thoroughly explore evidence of actual

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practices. Although resource intensive, it was decided that such a case study approach was most useful
in this instance.
Our choice of case study companies was carefully considered. In favouring in-depth studies, where our
team may need to visit several times, the range of companies was necessarily small. The companies
chosen were producers of complex engineered products as these represent key industrial sectors in the
UK (e.g. aerospace, power generation, transport, etc). Three companies were subsequently decided
upon; the first being a leader in aerospace, the second in automotive, and the third in agricultural and
construction machinery.
The case study data collection protocol has been largely based on the seminal work of Yin [7]. First, a
series of research questions have been formed to guide our investigation. These questions have been
distilled from our systematic review of existing literature [6]. From these a data collection protocol was
then formed. This specified for each question where, and with whom, evidence might be found within a
case. This was then translated into an Interview Pro-forma for the research team to use as part of semi-
structured interviews with personnel within the companies. The selected companies were then contacted,
the purpose of the study outlined, and then arrangements made for the research team to visit. Prior to the
visits the research team familiarised themselves with the products and markets of each company. Each
study then consisted of a series of interviews with personnel who could act as expert witnesses as to how
the company was dealing with Lean NPI. The data from these interviews was captured as case reports
for each company. These were then checked with the companies for accuracy and then used as the basis
for cross analysis to generate the findings for this paper.
Finally, in order to gain access to each of the three companies, we were obliged to ensure that potentially
sensitive details of their processes would not be released. Therefore, we have chosen not to disclose the
company names, as this gives us greater freedom to discuss our results and findings. However, we have
given a short resume of each company (section 3) as of June December 2006 when these studies were
carried out.
2.2 Formation of research questions
This section describes the formation of a series of research questions that were used as the basis of the
Interview Pro-forma used by the research team. As outlined above, this is based on an in-depth literature
review on Lean NPI [6] and so, for brevity, this section only gives a synopsis of the key literature.
The first apparent issue is concerned with how Lean is defined in practice. In the 1980s Lean was
associated with a reduction in waste in the factory, moving onto quality, cost and delivery during the 1990s
before the focus shifted to customer value after 2000 [4]. This is reflected in the design literature. For
example Haque [8] argues that engineers need to move from a production focus, in which the primary aim
is waste reduction, to one of identifying and enhancing value. Furthermore, irrespective of context, the
underlying key to maximising the success of Lean has been the adoption of an organisation-wide culture
across all areas in the business. For example, the ‘Lean Enterprise Value’ publication from MIT’s Lean
Aerospace Initiative (see McNeel [9]) supports the view that the entire enterprise must undergo a Lean
transformation for the impact of Lean to be significant. A truly successful application of Lean principles to

4
any process will, more often than not, require fundamental changes in systems, practices and behaviour
throughout an organisation. This leads us to our first question;
Question 1: What definition does the Company attach to ‘Lean’, and is it seen as a set of tools or a more
fundamental transition?”
There are a wide variety of examples where Lean has been applied to product design, engineering and
development in such fields as software [10, 11], construction [12] and aerospace [13, 14] and other
industries. In addition, case studies do indicate that the application of Lean to NPI is feasible and capable
of delivering benefits for large and small companies [15]. However, the extent to which Lean is being
applied is relatively unknown. This gives rise to the question;
Question 2: “Is the Company adopting Lean principles in the design office and NPI processes?”
Within manufacturing the first principle of Lean is to ‘specify value’ [5]. Lean is about creating more value
for customers by eliminating activities that are considered wasteful.
However, when applying these
principles to NPI it is widely recognised that waste is much more difficult to identify than in a
manufacturing environment. In manufacturing, for example, waste is seen as excess inventory or Work-
In-Progress (WIP). However, in NPI the WIP inventory is generally in the form of information. The value
of this information can be to increase certainty and so reduce risk. Clearly value in the NPI process needs
to be precisely defined as it is not necessarily the same as value in production operations. This leads to
the question;
Question 3: ‘How does the Company definevaluein the NPI process?”
Producing the right information, in the right place and at the right time, creates value in the product
development process [16]. However, some iteration in the process can be essential for the creation of
value [17] so, too, is rational risk-taking [18]. Indeed there is a lack of clarity in the literature not only about
how value is created (question 3) but also as to where value is created in the design office. We therefore
posed the question;
Question 4: “Where and when does the Company consider value’ to be created in the NPI process?
The literature [19, 20] suggests that a Toyota style set-based approach is key to Lean NPI. Set-based
design imposes agreed constraints across different functions to ensure that a final sub-system solution,
chosen from a set of alternatives from a particular function (such as body, power train, engine
management etc), will work with convergent solutions from all other functions. During the design process,
as each alternative is evaluated, trade-offs are made, weaker solutions are eliminated and new ones are
created by combining components in new ways. This approach is seen as superior to the alternative
point-based design process which fails to effectively reuse information/designs and is prone to significant
‘rework’ costs. This prompts the question;
Question 5: “Does the Company take a set-based’ or ‘point’ based approach in the NPI process?”
In the literature there is consensus that the key to a successful product design process is the strong
leadership of an expert Chief Engineer (CE) who, has total project responsibility and, is supported by
experienced functional engineers [8, 20 & 21]. Success does not require the CE to have control over all

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  • ...This industry was chosen for various reasons: 1 Compared to other industries, this industry has adopted a pioneering task in applying lean in its production and development processes (MacDuffie and Helper, 1997; Baines et al., 2007)....

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