Don’t reinvent the wheel

Making a difference by design…

Want to go faster? Stop reinventing the wheel!
Reuse the IP that’s in the business. Learn from what your colleagues have already learned and build on their knowledge.

Sounds simple right? Then why is it so hard to do?

I think it comes down to two things: our habit of rushing (always in a hurry, onto the next task, we’re not good at pausing, reflecting and thinking before we act) and we’re hopeless at storing and sharing.

It’s a bit like looking for the stapler in the office. You know it’s somewhere in the office. And when you need it it’s never next to printer where it’s meant to be. Even though someone put a chain on it and clearly labelled it… 🙂

Yet, if we could gather all the knowledge that we all, as a team, learned on our projects and capture it in a way that it’s easy to find, it would make for a fantastic handbook. The story goes that at Toyota that handbook exists. And that with that book anyone could build cars. Great cars. How cool is that?

If you’d be a new design engineer at Toyota, you’d just grab that book and start reading. And if you’re trying to work out how to design a certain part on your new product you’d go to that book first right? Just to learn how others have solved it. You might use what they did or see if you can improve the design even more. You’d build on that knowledge.

Sounds great. And so simple.
So why don’t we?

And, why do they at Toyota?

One, at Toyota learning is a habit. It’s part of their company DNA. And the quickest way to learn if you’re a new designer? Grab the handbook and start reading!

Two, capturing knowledge at Toyota is not seen as an extra task. It is the task. It’s part of learning. It’s part of your learning and it helps the rest of the team (and the future team) to learn. You know that’s true. Remember when you were studying for an exam? What did you do? Did you just read the book? Or did you capture summary notes for yourself? Capturing the summary notes was part of learning for the exam. It wasn’t an extra.

Here’s what I recommend:  

  1. Create & Capture: it’s the same task. Easiest is if everyone uses the same template. Toyota uses a simple template often called A3 or PPS (practical problem solving). In John Shooks bookproduct development this template is called a K-brief (Knowledge). It’s a simple story telling format on a 1-pager. And because it always follows the same headings it’s easy to read. It takes about a minute to get the gist and about 3 minutes to read. Easy! It’s all explained in John Shooks book ‘Managing to learn’. Find it here.
  2. Store – easy to store & to retrieve: this should be easy, so that everyone can find the document. There are lots of different solutions. I find the easiest an Excel spreadsheet with links to the right A3s. It’s simple, easy to use and a ‘Find’ search will bring up all the key words. And that’s what it comes down to, it should be super easy to use.
  3. Retrieve 
  4. Re-use. Ensure you capture your knowledge in a way someone else can copy what you did and get the same results. Put a bit of effort in explaining the set up, etc. (Use photos! Remember, “A picture is worth a thousand words”).

Next, capture your updates & store. For the next person to retrieve and learn.

That’s how you learn as a team. Exponentially.

It makes a big difference, by design.

Onwards & upwards,


About Saskia

Saskia is a new product development expert. She helps businesses to unlock their potential to consistently deliver new products faster, better, more profitable and with more fun.


Get the training. Come join me!

I’ll be in Invercargill on Friday 11th of September to deliver the Streamline NPD workshop. In person! Live! 🙂

This 1-day workshop is for you if you:

  • like to learn (or refresh) the Basics of New Product Development (NPD)
  • want to be up to speed on the latest thinking in NPD
  • would like to get a step-by-step guide of how to take an idea through development and launch in the market
  • want to know how to do that faster, better, more profitable and with more fun.

Learn more here.


PS – Whenever you’re ready, here are five ways I can help you to make a difference by design:
(1) Set up a time to talk, give me a call (021-68 49 68) or send me an email.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

(2) Download my “Product Development Warriors’ whitepaper. Find it here!

(3) Sign up to my newsletter.

(4) Connect with me on LinkedIn, you’ll also find me regularly posting there.

(5) Forward this email to a colleague.

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