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Lean experts will tell you that, when you want to be lean, it is important to remove waste. Waste is anything the customer is not willing to pay for. For example; when you manufacture paperclips, the value creation is in the cutting, bending, packing of the paperclips, where waste is in moving paperclips from one production step to the other and defects.
When you look at a product development process one could apply the same definition: “waste is anything the customer is not willing to pay for”, and you will easily identify the easy waste sources: poor meetings, delayed decisions, searching for those samples. However, working in that manner, you also easily end up in a grey zone. For example: what customer wants to pay for work on idea that never made it to market? Not one. But what if the working on that idea led to knowledge that is later on used for a product that did make it to market? Would you label the work on the first idea still as waste?
Allen Ward and Durward Sobek did solve this in an elegant way. The fuel of product development is knowledge. When there is knowledge, value can be created for the customer. What if we would define waste in product development as “everything that does not create usable knowledge?” That would allow for exploration and ideation. That would allow for substantiation of ideas and early learning. That would allow, in short, to give knowledge the central place in the product development organization that it deserves.

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