Lean product development: the holistic extension of lean production

Guest contribution by | 20.11.2023

In the world of product development, especially in complex technical industries, customer focus and efficiency are crucial. This is where lean product development comes into play, a holistic extension of lean production that enables development managers and project managers in product development to continuously optimise the product development process in order to bring high-quality products to market faster and more cost-effectively. But lean product development is more than just the application of lean methods and tools to product development. In this article, I will explain the reasons for this and suggest why it requires adaptation and a profound transformation.

Lean production vs. lean product development

In a world where customer demands and competition are constantly growing, it is essential that companies focus on developing products that offer real added value. Lean product development is one answer to this challenge.

Lean production, as a proven method for increasing efficiency in manufacturing, has a firm place in the business world. It focuses on

  • eliminating waste,
  • maximising customer benefit and
  • the continuous improvement of processes.

Lean product development builds on these principles, but direct transfer is not possible without adaptation.

Why adaptation is necessary

Lean product development requires adaptation because the tools and methods that are effective in production are not sufficient in product development. Product development is primarily a creative process in which ideas and concepts must be tested, refined and implemented. It requires a high degree of flexibility and the ability to deal with uncertainties. While reducing waste is often seen as a linear goal in production, product development requires a customised approach to each project. Nevertheless, comparable mechanisms can be identified from project to project, as ultimately emphasised by the general project management processes, even in agile contexts.

Toyota’s experience shows that the culture of continuous improvement and adaptation to the specific requirements of product development are crucial. This adaptation makes it possible to respond more efficiently to the challenges of product development.

Product development and costs: the influence on production

Product development has a significant influence on subsequent production and product costs. This correlation is an important reason why Lean product development is so relevant in technical industries. Focussed product development can significantly improve the cost factors in production.

The impact of efficient product development on costs

Efficient product development not only reduces time-to-market, but also enables better cost control. Delays, changes and redundancies in product development can lead to significant cost increases in production.

The benefits of efficient product development are also evident when compared to other project management processes. In some projects, inefficient development processes tend to increase costs. These higher costs can then be transferred to the end products, which limits competitiveness.

Efficiency at Toyota compared to western manufacturers

Toyota has proven that it is possible to develop products faster and more cost-efficiently. This efficiency gain extends to the entire development chain, from product development to production. Toyota’s experience provides valuable insights into how lean principles can be applied in product development to develop high-quality products faster and more cost-effectively. It shows that continuous improvement, the integration of lean thinking into the corporate culture and flexibility are key factors that help explain Toyota’s success in product development.

Key concepts in lean product development

Lean product development comprises a number of key concepts that are specifically tailored to the requirements of product development.

  • Front-loading: early decisions and concept development

Front-loading is an approach in which important decisions are made early on in the development process. This enables targeted concept development and the identification of risks before they become costly problems.

  • Set-based concurrent engineering: parallel development

Set-based concurrent engineering promotes the parallel development of alternative concepts and solutions. Instead of committing to one approach at an early stage, several options are analysed. This enables a better selection and prevents time and resources flowing in the wrong direction and time-consuming restarts becoming necessary.

  • The role of the chief engineer and managers

The chief engineer plays a crucial role in the implementation of lean product development. He is responsible for creating development standards that ensure that processes are efficient and quality-orientated. Managers must promote the lean mindset and support its implementation. They are also responsible for the professional development of their employees.

  • The role of technology in product development

In today’s technology-driven world, the role of technology in product development is of central importance. However, technology should always support people in the product development process and not be an end in itself.

Technical tools can significantly increase the efficiency and quality of product development. However, it is important that technology supports the development process and does not complicate it. Excessive complexity of technology can be inefficient and slow down product development.

The transformation to lean product development

The introduction of lean product development is a far-reaching transformation that brings together the levels of process, people and technology and is accompanied by a cultural change.

The changeover to lean product development requires

  • careful harmonisation of processes,
  • the empowerment of employees,
  • the correct integration of technology and
  • the creation of an environment in which continuous improvement is encouraged.

Cultural change is also a key aspect of the transformation. Adopting the lean mindset at all levels of the organisation is crucial. This requires training, open communication and creating an environment where employees have the freedom to contribute ideas and see mistakes as learning opportunities.


Lean product development is a holistic extension of lean production that is specifically tailored to the requirements of product development. It enables development managers and project managers in product development to deploy team members in a more targeted manner in order to bring high-quality products to market faster and more cost-effectively. This approach requires not only the application of lean principles, but also an adaptation to the specific requirements of product development without simply transferring methods and tools from one context to another.

In a world where competition and customer requirements are constantly growing, lean product development is the key to overcoming these challenges and creating sustainable, efficient product development. It is not an isolated method, but an approach that improves product development processes while adding value for customers. Toyota has shown that the application of lean principles in product development can lead to significantly greater efficiency and effectiveness. These principles could also serve as inspiration for Western companies to optimise their product development and remain competitive.


Notes (partly in German) and recommended reading:

We are very happy to recommend Kaizen2go, the German-language podcast by Goetz Mueller, in which he has published over 320 episodes. And if you want to discuss lean principles or are looking for support for your projects, you can easily contact him at https://www.geemco.de/.

If you like the article or would like to discuss it, please feel free to share it in your network.

Goetz Mueller has published another article in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Avoid communication traps

Avoid communication traps

Götz Müller
Götz Müller

Goetz Mueller has been involved in the management of development projects since 1993, change projects and continuous improvement processes since 1998 and Neuro-Linguistic Programming since 2006. He is a trained Lean Facilitator, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and NLP Master Practitioner. Since 2009, he has been working as an independent consultant, trainer and coach, supporting small businesses, SMEs, craft businesses and corporate sites in matters of process optimisation and the continuous improvement process.