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Book Review: Ready, Set, Dominate
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Book Review: Ready, Set, Dominate by Michael Kennedy, Kent Harmon, and Ed Minnock

Ready, Set, Dominate: Implement Toyota's Set-Based Learning for Developing Products and Nobody Can Catch You!

Written by: Michael Kennedy, Kent Harmon, and Ed Minnock. Richmond, VA: Oaklea Press, 2008. 296 pages.
Reviewed by: Donovan R. Hardenbrook

Ready, Set, Dominate

Ready, Set, Dominate explains how a company can take and adapt the Toyota's lean product development (LDP) system to fit its organization's unique culture and size. Similar to Goldratt and Cox's (1992) The Goal, this fictional piece explains the concepts of Toyota's LDP by telling a story of a company attempting to adapt and implement it.

This book is the sequel to Kennedy's (2003) Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. It continues Infrared Technologies Corporation's (IRC's) journey to implement Toyota's product development system. A year had passed and IRC had made some incremental progress, but not the quadruple increase in productivity the company needed to achieve. The knowledge-based development steering team, led by Jon Stevens, analyzed the possible root causes and came to the conclusion that IRC should have taken a bolder, more integrative approach. Unfortunately, the newly hired chief financial officer (CFO), Brenda Caine, was gunning for the chief executive officer (CEO) spot and had decided to slash the workforce and acquire faster-growing business tactics she employed at her prior company, hoping to achieve 7% growth in IRC's business. She brought in her hatchet man, Al Frank, to help expedite the process. Things looked bleak, but eventually the new CFO and her cronies came to realize that their former company, Consumer Technologies Corporation (CTC), was not doing so well after all. Caine's growth tactics had actually depleted the company's key knowledge workers and suppliers, leaving CTC worse off than before. After benchmarking discussions with CEOs of two companies (one smaller and one bigger than IRC), they realized that perhaps the lean product development approach Stevens proposed was the only way to succeed.

Ready, Set, Dominate builds on and clarifies how the four cornerstones of the look, act, model, discuss, and act (LAMDA) system (the Toyota version of the plan-do-check-act cycle) work. The four cornerstones are as follows: (1) expert engineering workforce; (2) entrepreneurial system designer; (3) set-based concurrent engineering; and (4) responsibility-based planning and control (p. 29). The authors spend considerable time showing how the company can provide some incremental improvements separately, but when integrated together into a system, it can drive radical improvement.

If the book had ended here, doubt would have persisted as to whether companies could successfully implement lean. However, Chapters 10 through 12 reveal that the two fictionalized companies in the IRC story are actual companies: Teledyne Benthos, makers of remote-controlled submersible and side-scanning sonar and leak detection for liquid packages; and Fisher and Paykel, a large manufacturer of home appliances. This adds considerable credence to the authors' conclusion that companies can adopt the essence of the Toyota product development system within their culture, processes, and workforce.

Chapter 13, “Roadmap to Domination,” identifies six critical success factors:

  1. Adopt a simple, visual model of the transformation (p. 267).
  2. A learning process in place coupled with a skilled workforce (pp. 267–268).
  3. Functional subsystems are defined with clear responsibility for knowledge growth and quality (p. 269).
  4. An entrepreneurial system designer must be identified for every project (p. 270).
  5. Install a system for generalizing, visualizing, managing, and reusing set-based knowledge (pp. 270–271).
  6. Top-level management must drive the transformation (p. 272).

Additionally, the authors provide a three-step transformation approach to implementation: (1) robust visible product development (p. 273); (2) knowledge-based product development (p. 274); and (3) set-based concurrent engineering (p. 274).

From a product development perspective, there are three important ideas that run counter to the traditional NPD approach:

1. Concurrency of knowledge management (KM) system with the NPD system. The fact that turnover of critical knowledge workers is happening across most industries only heightens the need for knowledge management. Most KM efforts do not make knowledge reusable for new products and new employees. The book describes two value streams that run concurrently: knowledge and product. Another important aspect identified by the authors is the need for product development process to “pull” from the KM system. It draws on A3 in the early stages and then codifies the new knowledge gained through design standards (check sheets). Standardizing how knowledge is captured and used is a big missing element in most companies' product development systems. Many companies have DfX (Design for “X” where X is a variable term such as reuse, test, validation, or manufacturing) strategies, but they put more emphasis on communication between functional groups rather than on understanding performance curves.

2. “Test then design” versus “design then test” methodology. Most product development processes establish requirements during the early stages of the fuzzy front end. Requirements are developed based on business and marketing strategy, and they get “frozen” so that detailed design specifications can be created and an expensive prototype can be developed and tested in the later stages. A “test then design” approach has more early experimentation and inexpensive prototyping in the early stages of product development, for the purpose not of building the product but of gaining knowledge related to technical and financial feasibility of various options. Waiting until the last minute to make a design choice allows the cross-functional product team to understand the impact that one design choice has on other subsystems within the product design.

3. More than management commitment—management involvement. While this isn't a new concept, Ready, Set, Dominate attempts to highlight the importance of management's active involvement in the change efforts related to lean product development. In the novel section of the book, Ron Morrison, the CEO of a small firm called Sonic Solutions, is actively involved, serving the role of chief engineer. He participates in integrating events and making sure engineers are creating A3s. At the company larger than IRT, G&K Appliance Company, the CEO put a credible champion in place to drive the effort and supported them throughout.

Ready, Set, Dominate attempts to identify the key elements to successful implementation of Toyota's product development system. Readers beset with similar business challenges will find it worth the read. From a new product development (NPD) practitioner perspective, many of the principles promoted run counter to NPD conventional wisdom and to most practitioners' experience. However, I have observed product divisions struggle to make their NPD process work. An integrative approach certainly makes sense, and the authors have provided a few cases studies that could be a basis for companies that buy into LPD. I believe Fortune 1000 companies will have a difficult time getting the level of management commitment described because of decentralization and because a major crisis often cripples an organization before effective change can take place. Smaller enterprises have a better chance of success.

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