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Elyssa Pallai

VP Marketing

Digital marketer and translator, Elyssa spends her time putting NPD and engineering concepts into plain english and working on new and meaningful ways to connect with Playbook's amazing clients.

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Innovation and Lean Product Development: Solving the LA Traffic Problem with Flow

Elyssa Pallai- 02/2/17 04:31 PM

New product development and innovation are the lifeblood of your company. This series explores innovation and what can happen when project teams experience flow.

My son, an avid skateboarder, had us visiting Los Angeles this weekend to explore the great skate parks that pepper the city. It’s a city that shares some commonality with Playbook's hometown of Boulder, Colorado, including over 300 days of sunshine annually, and a lot of colorful characters.

Innovation and Lean product development

As expected, the roads were frustratingly jam-packed with cars, and unexpectedly, garbage.  The jam-packed roads got me thinking about Lean principles. Traffic is a useful analogy for explaining lean concepts such as flow, bottlenecks, and capacity.

While there are many ways to increase throughput of a highway, it seems the most common one is to increase capacity by adding lanes. But in L.A., there are already many roads with ten lanes in both directions and they’ve run out of room to expand.

So what next?

Apparently, we aren't the only frustrated consumers. Elon Musk is looking at ways to attack the traffic issue in L.A..

Elon Musk is Boring Under LA

According to Wired Magazine, Musk, believes boring under the city may be a viable solution. One of the lessons all product developers can learn from Musk is that he breaks a problem down to its critical constraint and solves that first. When he realized the only way to make space launches affordable was to reuse the expensive rocket motors, he began testing the concept of re-landing them on a very small scale. This decreased the cost and increased the speed of the learning, which is another great lean principle. And he thinks this could lower the cost of space travel by as much as a factor of a hundred…!

So what did Musk decide the constraint was in terms of solving the traffic problem? The speed at which you can dig tunnels. If you can dig faster, it will cost less.

And how do you think he went about testing new methods in a rapid learning fashion? You guessed it, he started digging right on his own Tesla campus in L.A….

Check out the article below for insights into flow, fast learning, risk and critical constraints in new product development.

Inside the ‘Tunnel’ Elon Musk Is Already Digging Under Los Angeles


We love to see real examples of engineering feats so please share any stories with us. 

Now anyone willing to take on garbage removal? ;-)

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Photo credit: oninnovation