A Lean Champion at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for the last ten years, Norbert Majerus has deployed lean product development processes at Goodyear’s three innovation centers in Akron, Ohio, Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, and Hanau, Germany.

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Goodyear launched this major initiative to bring lean thinking into product development and R&D back in 2005. Tell us a little about the decision-making process leading up to that new direction.

We had done really well for quality and performance of our new products, but our marketing organization and our customers had gotten accustomed to receiving most products when product development was done, but not when they needed them or when the market needed them. So in 2005 we had new leadership at Goodyear, and they questioned why so many new products were late. Our general director of product development at that time was called by the Chairman to explain why, and the data he had from his project managers showed that everything was fine. But then we dug into it a little bit deeper and we found out we were not even twenty percent on time. It took a lot of courage, but he fessed up to the fact that we had to fix this process. That’s when we started.

How did you come to be involved so closely with this project?

I was at that time a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma, and I loved the data-driven process and cross functional nature of the projects.  Six Sigma is really for engineers. When I was asked to get involved with lean I was not thrilled about it because I liked what I was doing. But then after our general director at the time kept insisting, I very reluctantly bought a few books and started reading about lean and lean product development.

Was there a moment early on in the project where you realized, “This is really going to work”?

There was a very clear moment. We had just started to see some results in our metrics and asked ourselves, “When is anything going to be visible in the bottom line?” Then one day I found myself in a meeting with our Chief Technical Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and the Vice President for North American Business. The VP turned to our Chief Technical Officer and said, “I don’t know how you did this, but we’ve noticed all of a sudden that we get our products on time, and it’s made a huge difference. He showed some numbers. I was surprised that it had taken so little time to notice the effect of R&D providing quality product with good performance at the time when they really needed it in the market.

Within five years, Goodyear’s product development cycle times were reduced by 70 percent, on-time delivery of new projects was up almost 100 percent, and throughput had improved three-fold, and all of that was without any increase in the R&D budget. How did that line up with Goodyear’s original goals for the initiative? How have the expectations for this new approach changed based on what you’ve already achieved?

We tried to focus on the customer value, not the costs themselves. A lot of companies try to use lean to reduce costs of their R&D organization. That has some impact within the R&D organization, but the business really has a hard time noticing because most companies only spend from one to four percent on R&D. What we really tried to do was apply lean to the indirect effect of R&D: What can R&D do for the business?

We knew that on-time delivery would make a difference. We weren’t quite sure how it would translate into the bottom-line numbers, which is very hard to calculate. The really unexpected thing that we found was that as we eliminated waste from the process we got much faster, and our quality improved because as we got faster, there were less changes in the program. We were actually improving efficiency and quality at the same time. Those things were unexpected.

As far as Goodyear is concerned, they want to be known as a company who makes great products, but also as a company with people that know what they are doing and who work with good processes

 Projects like this succeed because of the people involved: Tell us a little about the team you worked with and the role leadership played in delivering such a major improvement in Goodyear’s new product development.

One of the things we learned very early: We could have brought a consultant in and let the consultant run the program, but while we did bring consultants in, we brought consultants in to teach me and to teach me, my team, and the engineers who were actually designing the tires.

They taught us about lean; I was working with a team of design experts, whom we empowered to learn the lean principles and then figure out how to apply those principles to the work they were doing every day. Looking back, we changed from the inside out. I think that made a huge difference to how we got as far as we did with this initiative and how we were able to sustain it to this day.

When did you decide your story would make a great book, and how did you get buy-in from Goodyear to let you share your experiences so freely?

To be quite honest, I broke my leg in a skiing accident last year. That put me on crutches for a very long time, and I couldn’t pursue my outdoor activities anymore, and so I finally had the time I needed to put the story together.

As far as Goodyear is concerned, they want to be known as a company who makes great products, but also as a company with people that know what they are doing and who work with good processes. We feel the need to get those competencies noted so we can be known as a globally competitive company in the future. Goodyear is willing to share those insights and that knowledge by means of this book or other publications.

What ideas, insights, and inspirations are you hoping other manufacturing executives will take away from reading your book?

I hope they take away that lean has a place in product development. In the past this has not been obvious to most executives. In fact, there were a lot of publications where product development and R&D executives held that lean could stifle creativity. At Goodyear we have proven that is not the case. We have proven that lean has a very prominent place in product development. We have proven that it can make a huge difference.

I also hope they can take away that it all comes down to understanding the principles and teaching the principles to the people who are going to do the work. Make them part of the transformation, or even let them lead the transformation.

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 Summary of Lean-Driven Innovation: Powering Product Development at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

In 2005, Goodyear’s research and development (R&D) engine was not performing up to its full potential. The R&D organization developed high-quality tires, but the projects were not always successful. Goodyear embarked on a major initiative to transform its innovation creation processes by learning, understanding, and applying lean product development principles.

Within five years, Goodyear saw its product development cycle times slashed by 70 percent, on-time delivery performance rise close to 100 percent, and throughput improve three-fold – all achieved with no increase in the R&D budget.

 Lean-Driven Innovation: Powering Product Development at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company describes in great detail how the Goodyear team was able to achieve such significant improvements. Revealing the ups and downs of this successful transformation, the book shares experiences of how this seismic change was managed, how people were engaged, and how Goodyear dramatically reinvigorated its product development and innovation processes — and, in the process, delivered substantial more value to customers and to the company.

The book also explains how lean product development helped Goodyear dramatically improve revenue by having every new product available when the market needed it. Presenting wide-ranging perspectives from all levels of leadership, this book is ideal for anyone in R&D daring to take on a lean initiative in R&D or who is struggling with a lean transformation that is not delivering to its full potential.

The book presents invaluable insights gained by the author during his 36 years within Goodyear, of which 10 have been directly involved in trying to develop, implement, and sustain lean to achieve the company’s business objectives.

After reading this book, you will gain a practical path for applying lean to the innovation processes of your organization, including where to begin and what to do, regardless of the industry and the status of your transformation.