Don Reinertsen

Keynote for Wednesday, April 21st:
The Easy Road to FLOW Goes through a Town named LEAN

Why does the software development community do a better job using lean product development methods than other communities, even those with decades more experience in lean manufacturing? Perhaps, because it is willing to adapt lean methods to its problems, instead of trying to change its problems to fit lean methods.

This adaptation is vital because product development is very different from manufacturing. For example, in manufacturing, trying to eliminate all variability is a sure path to success; in product development, eliminating all variability eliminates both all innovation and all value-added. What product developers actually need is systems that achieve flow in the presence of inherent variability.

There are several good examples of such systems. One of the most immediately useful is created by exploiting the underlying logical patterns used in lean manufacturing. But, using these logical patterns is quite different from simply copying the surface behaviors that have worked in lean manufacturing.

Recognizing and adapting these logical patterns requires a bit more thought, and more effort, than rote imitation, but the payoff is huge. It enables us to unlock large and simultaneous improvements in cycle-time, efficiency, and quality. We start by making the invisible inventory of development processes visible, both physically and financially. Then, we use a variety of methods to reduce this in-process inventory.

This keynote will explore the powerful foundation that lean manufacturing methods provide, its link to economic performance, and the key areas in which these methods must be extended. Manufacturing tasks are repetitive, predictable, homogeneous, and bounded; most development tasks are not. Developers need more advanced approaches and such approaches are already in use today. If we seek to achieve flow, the ideas of lean manufacturing are a superb starting point. However, if we think of them as our final destination, they will ultimately only block our progress.


Don Reinertsen Don Reinertsen’s contribution to the management of product development is recognized internationally. In 1983 he wrote a landmark article that first quantified the value of development speed, and which has been cited in the frequently quoted McKinsey study that indicated “6 months delay can be worth 33 percent of lifecycle profits.” He coined the term “Fuzzy Front End” and began applying world class manufacturing techniques in product development in 1985. Don is particularly noted for bringing fresh perspectives and quantitative rigor to development process management.

Don is President of Reinertsen & Associates, specializing in the management of the product development process. Before forming his own company, he consulted at McKinsey & Co., and was Senior Vice President of Operations for a private diversified manufacturing company.

His book, ‘Managing the Design Factory’, is recognized as a powerful and thoughtful application of manufacturing thinking to product development. Don is also co-author of, ‘Developing Products in Half the Time’ which is a universally acknowledged ‘must have’ text for product leaders.

Don holds a BSc in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School. He is a frequent conference speaker and a gifted workshop leader and facilitator.