Why you need to make processes visible

One of my clients is trying to improve their product development processes. They have two major value streams: one for softgoods (cut and sew products) and one for hardgoods (products requiring injection molds). The development timelines on these two streams are fairly different, although both products are sold to the same customers during the same seasons. The hardgoods process always seemed to be late, with last minute changes and late nights for both the engineers and the factories. As the first step in improving the process, representatives from all parts of the value stream -- product managers, designers, engineers, logistics, marketing, and sales got together to map the entire process.

Turns out, the major problem was gobsmackingly obvious: the engineers thought the product had to be finalized and ready to go in time for the first customer delivery date. But the sales team needed the product to be finalized and ready to go for the salesman samples -- two months earlier. Whoops.

The softgoods team already knew this and operated on this model. It was just assumed that the hardgoods team operated this way as well. But making assumptions is never a good idea:

It was only the visualization of the process that laid bare the mistaken assumptions.

There's still plenty of improvement opportunity in the process. But with the ambiguity in the delivery date cleared up, the team now has the possibility of actually meeting customer needs.