Being a bit of a process nerd, it was a real treat to be shown their work flow, from sizing, to welding, to the paint shop, to adding parts to completed frames and all that there is in-between. Lean manufacturing methods are employed throughout, designed to visualise and limit concurrent work flow, to standardise tasks and minimise feedback loops. These ensure that the best quality is maintained, that wasted time and materials are eradicated and that a commercially viable number of bikes are rolled out the door each month.
Lean and Kanban adhere to certain rules. Some of these rules can, and should be applied to the development of software. These include the concepts of eliminating waste, maximising production flow, empowering workers, continuous improvement and forming partnerships with suppliers.
The above concepts are what any good team will strive to achieve by using Kanban signaling on walls to help visualise and stem workflow through analysis, development, testing, etc – to achieve optimal workflow through the whole team. Some times though blockages and bottle necks to flow can occur well before work hits analysis and development within the delivery team. So maybe us Product Managers can apply Kanban techniques further up the flow of work where requirement definition resides?
Try viewing your project stakeholders as suppliers and their requirements and scope as the parts that we need to complete our product. As a product manager you can use elements of Kanban to schedule the supply of these parts just in time for development thus avoiding blockages within your area of responsibility, that can impact the flow of dependent delivery teams. Below are some pointers for implementing a Kanban system to improve the flow of your own work.
- Visualisation and transparency of this work is key
- Split out tasks into discrete pieces of work that you can card up
- Limit yourself to only be working on 1 – 3 cards at any given time
- Specify the date you kicked off the activity and write this on the card
- Specify when you’d like the card completed, thinking about when the requirements will be needed in development – write this date on the card
- Measure how long it takes to complete each card by placing a red dot on the card for each day its in play
- Experiment to see if more red dots occur on each card when more are in play at the same time
- Report on the % of cards that you completed on time. On review of this data you can tweak concurrent work, distractions, etc if not meeting timings
- Have a prioritised backlog of cards, and review regularly
- You could find a space to start your own Kanban wall of activity
- If you can’t find your own wall physical space, there’s some great virtual wall tools (that you can take with you anywhere), like Trello and LeanKit
- Its important though to keep stakeholders and your delivery team across the activity of your wall – be it virtual or physical
I was visiting Boulder, Colorado a while back and had heard about Yeti Cycles allowing tours of their well known factory over in Golden. I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to peak under the covers of a company that’s consistently produced such well regarded, amazing products. So how do they do it? How do they maintain their kudos?
Firstly, the people at Yeti are super friendly – As soon as I walked in the door, I just happened to be greeted by Dave from procurement, who was more then happy to show me around – no hesitation what so ever. Anyone in the place would have done the same thing. These guys have a genuine passion for mountain biking – the place is located literally on the edge of the Rocky Mountain foot hills, these guys never miss a chance for a lunch time ride to test out new rigs and enjoy some stunning single track (weather permitting). So they’re very approachable and passionate about their craft – this is a good start.
Things like suspension design, frame material & geometry are designed and developed in-house by staff who happen to be avid riders. The lead designer has the advantage of testing out his work during lunch breaks on the prototypes they iterate.
They construct the prototype frames, test them regularly refine based on feedback and ultimately perfect the finished product. It’s an efficient and effective process of iteration that lends its self to the Lean Startup way of thinking – every new Yeti model is essentially a new startup hypothesis i.e. ‘the SB66 suspension design will maintain more pedal efficiency under load’ that’s validated (or not) in a very clever and economical process that requires only the tools and skill-sets critical to the improvement process, all operating under the one relatively small roof. This prototype frames are continually improved as more handeling, braking, shifting, shock absorbing information is revealed during those daily rides out back.
Once everyone knows the prototypes are perfected and their longevity is tested, the mass production of frames is out-sourced to Taiwan. Once upon a time Yeti hand-built their frames at the old Durango factory, this tour gave me an idea of how much time and effort would go into maintaining that approach – It’d be unviable for them to continue to do so and it’d drive the price of the bikes up significantly. These days the Taiwanese are world class when it comes to mass produced carbon and aluminium frames, so it’s a no brainer.
The gleaming frames that arrive back from mass production are things of true beauty. I got to gawk at a line of carbon ASR’s and 29er Big Top frames ready to roll out to the various bike shops stocking the brand. For a cross country/enduro nutter like me it was fantastic to see these models.
What Truly Sets Yeti Apart?
The design and development process these guys use, produce some of the most excellent mountain bikes you can get. The attention to detail from the unique and marbly carbon fibre weaves to the subtle and sleek frame decals is outstanding. But to be honest a lot of bike companies hold similar standards. So what really sets Yeti apart?
For me it’s their long and passionate history in the mountain biking community and their willingness to really push creativity in innovation. There are momentos scattered around the place that remind you of their rich and sometimes outrageous past – and all these things build upon the very strong brand attributes, inherited by any product wearing the famous logo. It’s a good thing their products are amazing in their own right as well…