Knowledge plays a central role in innovation and product development. Similarly, when implementing lean in product development, one needs to pay significant attention to knowledge. As this requires a radically different way of approaching especially the front end of product development, the new way of working requires a paradigm shift. Let’s investigate a little more what is happening.
James Womack already taught us with his “Womack cycle” that we should focus on sustaining the cycle of defining customer value, identifying the steps to value, create flow, allow for pull and continuously improve. Centrally in there is defining the so-called value stream. In innovation, there are two essential value streams: the product value stream that brings the product from idea to market (i.e. the development projects) and the knowledge value stream, the organization’s ability to create, capture and reuse knowledge.
These two value streams are clearly connected: knowledge is the enabler of bringing an idea to market. Once created, this knowledge needs to be captured in the knowledge value stream. In a next project, the existing knowledge is pulled from the knowledge value stream to be reused in next product. Experts in the area of LeanPD believe that excellent performance in the knowledge value stream can speed up the product value stream by 30% to 50%.
The paradigm shift that is needed sits especially in the first part of the product development process. It is referred to as “Learning First” and it means that to start with the critical knowledge gaps are identified. The team starts to fill these knowledge gaps by creating knowledge: technology, but also insights on consumer interaction, key risks in the proposition and business case. Only when the critical knowledge gaps are closed, Michael Kennedy refers to this moment as “success assured”, the product is detailed and tested. 
This is a paradigm shift, as most organizations are used to as quick as possible define the requirements, choose a concept, detail and test it, fail often, iterate and learn from that. In Learning First, the order is changed. Detailed requirements and full concept testing is later in the process with much lower risk, whereas testing and experimenting to close knowledge gaps is pulled to the very front. Therefore we refer to Learning First as “test then design” where traditional development is “design then test”.