I have been engaged with Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD) for almost two decades, and the principle I think most imperative to embrace is Visual Management. I am a visual learner (about 65% of us are!) and my experience has taught me that visuals promote better sharing, discussion, debate, internalization, and alignment. I’ve come to think of Visual Management as the “cockpit” of the LPPD system – its purpose is to “SEE together, KNOW together, ACT together.” Visual Management coordinates the dialogues, defines the actions, and monitors the progress… and it does so while pulling the other LPPD principles along with it!

When it comes to innovation, using a Functional Block Diagram (FBD) as the core of the visual system supercharges Visual Management more than any other technique. An FBD is a product map by system and subsystem that shows how each part is connected. Great care is taken to ensure that the seams, interactions, and dependencies are identified. Most importantly, all customer-centric functional and performance elements are then attributed to the correct system or collection of systems, resulting in a deeper understanding of the product to be developed from a customer perspective. If used consistently across the organization, the FBD energizes the entire innovation process and leads to long-lasting improvement in the product development culture.

SEE together,

KNOW together,

ACT together.

Using the FBD as the core brings three levels of benefits to an organization’s innovation system:  At the first level, it simply enables development teams to understand the product better. At the second level, it encourages cross-functional structuring of teams per system and subsystem, not by typical resource or organizational hierarchy. This leads to improved collaboration and better focus on customer-centric elements. And at the third level, consistent use of the FBD for development has a lasting impact on an organization’s reward culture, bringing real power to its innovation system.

Level 1:  Understand your product better

Creating the FBD enables a deep understanding of how product subsystems are linked together. Since the FBD is constructed from a customer-centric perspective, the work required to deliver customer innovation then becomes clearer, and the likelihood that teams will collaborate to bring about the targeted innovation grows significantly. This raises the innovation level of any development entity and is the first step toward full realization of true customer-centered innovation.


Level 2:  Cross-functional team structure

As development entities begin to work in this new manner, teams more naturally become structured by system and/or subsystem versus the typical resource discipline or organizational hierarchy that plagues many development entities. Consequently, collaboration strengthens considerably, and customer-centered innovation is further enhanced.

Level 3:  Reward culture

When the development entity fully embraces the FBD and achieves cross-functional collaboration, there is a spillover effect on organizational reward culture, moving it away from a silo reward culture. Eventually collaboration barriers are dismantled entirely and customer-centered innovation can consistently reach new levels.

The FBD is arguably the single-most powerful framework for product developers and organizations. Product development teams benefit from the deeper product understanding it brings and enables the work in the most customer-centric manner possible. Consistent use by the whole organization leads to an improved reward culture, bringing long-lasting and unparalleled collaboration and innovation.

During my session at the LPPDE North America conference in October 2023, I will share learnings about Visual Management and its impact on Innovation effectiveness. I would love to inspire great discussions on this topic and hear about your experiences. I hope to see you there!

Do you agree with how these methodologies are characterized?

What methodology does your organization employ or is your organization embroiled in a constant firefighting effort?

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The LPPDE conference October 3-5, 2023 in Ann Arbor will be exploring these ideas as well as many more and provide a forum for participants to share, learn, and collaborate with other like-minded development leaders.

Don't miss this fantastic opportunity to learn from and share with others at the LPPDE Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan October 2-5, 2023 (Registration Link)

Dan Caputo

Retired, HP

Dan Caputo is a strategist, systems thinker, and innovation champion with over 35 years developing and bringing new products to market. He has extensive experience in leading technology asset and product development teams, and has been using Lean Product Development principles to simultaneously drive product innovation and program excellence.