Interface’s Lean Product Development Journey
Interface is a manufacturer of modular carpets from LaGrange, Georgia, USA. The company started its Lean Product Development Journey as part of the new business strategy, a Directive Mission Zero established by its chairman and CEO in 1994.
The Lean Analytics Association (LAA) team carried out an interview and Gemba walk at Interface facilities to document how it maintains an inviting environment for continuous improvement by establishing lean thinking best practices in the innovation process.
By reading further, you will learn how Interface ties lean to sustainability strategy and translates implementation efforts into business results and find out where to find more details about their Lean Product Development journey.
Interface is the world’s largest manufacturer and marketer of modular carpets. The company’s modular carpet systems, marketed under the established global brands Interface and FLOR, utilizes carpet tiles cut in precise, dimensionally stable squares or rectangles to produce a floorcovering that combines the appearance and texture of traditional soft floorcovering with the advantages of a modular carpet system.
Interface is maintaining its position among top sustainability leaders due to company’s business strategy focused on sustainability through the Mission Zero strategy concentrated on people, process, product, place and profits.
“To be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so we will become restorative through the power of influence” Mission Zero (Ray C. Anderson, 1994)”
To support Mission Zero and guide everybody on the path of accomplishing the company’s goal, the Seven Fronts of Mount Sustainability were identified and placed on a framework to align and remind employees the fronts through which the company needs to pass to reach its mission before 2020.
Lean thinking is also embedded in this strategy, complementing the sustainability efforts and is particularly used in the Custom Design Studio which works on engineer-to-order flooring solutions. The department leveraged lean best practices to improve the design process from manufacturing experience at Interface’s Pilot Plant.
Interface’s Seven Fronts of Mount Sustainability.
Through its journey, Interface established best practices in several aspects of Lean Product Development. These practices were identified and structured according to the four building blocks of the Lean Innovation Model. Below are just some of the best practices identified and described in the Interface chapter of the Lean Product Development Best Practices Book.
1) STRATEGY AND PERFORMANCE
The concepts Interface is using to develop new processes are fully aligned with both sustainability strategy and lean thinking.
2) SKILLED PEOPLE AND COLLABORATION
The product development area at Interface includes cross-functional teams of experts working together and relying on the rest for an accurate and timely information transfer to maintain reliable and short product development cycle times delivering innovative solutions to its customers.
3) EFFICIENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS AND KNOWLEDGE BASED ENVIRONMENT
Interface frontloaded the design process and created a Kanban system that allows job allocation according to the complexity and the designers’ level of skills. Through Kaizen events, the team initiated a continuous improvement process to ensure the customer needs are understood and their wishes are translated to the “designers’ language” accurately. To encourage collaboration and co-creation of knowledge, Interface has introduced an internal social media platform that serves as a knowledge co-creation space and sharing space. Its use is encouraged by Top Management and it is seen as an opportunity for positive self-promotion and achieving recognition by peers throughout the company.
4) CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT AND CHANGE
Continuous improvement at Interface is a vital part of the company’s vision: 10% of employees working time in product development is assigned to continuous improvement activities.
Consolidated best practices as identified in Interface, structured around the Lean Innovation Model
Impact of applying Lean Thinking in Product Development
After the Design Studio at Interface started to measure the benefits of using lean thinking to improve custom design processes, the following benefits have been observed:
- The number of custom samples created increased from 30,750 in 2013 to an estimated 32,250 in 2015.
- Digital sample cycle times were reduced from 1.7 days to an estimated 0.5 days per sample
- Physical sample cycle times were reduced from 3 days to 1.8 days
Interface’s Best Practices are presented and described on more than 25 pages in the Lean Product Development Best Practices book. Interface’s chapter is only one out of the 10 chapters presenting the real-world application of lean product development in multinational companies.
The hard copy of the book with the 10 cases is available for only 74.99 EUR.
Interface’s Lean Product Development case is available digitally free of charge to our members.
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About the Authors
Lean Analytics Association
Doroteja has 3 years of experience working on lean product development with a background in mechanical engineering and ultra-precision technologies. She has worked with global organizations from various industrial sectors, either leading or supporting the development and introduction of bespoke lean innovation and new product development solutions.
Doroteja is interested in innovation capability development and over the past years, she has developed several training courses to support organizations achieving quick and efficient knowledge transfer through customized simulated sessions. Being a certified Service Design Thinking Facilitator she believes in “Doing, not speaking” and supporting developments of truly customer-centric products and services.
Doroteja is a co-author of the Lean Product Development Best Practices book and conference publications.
Billy Ingram is the Lean Product Development Director at Interface; he considers himself a learner, innovator and inventor. He specializes in new business model creation and sustainability re-engineering. He strives to build more sustainable business models through the practical application of innovation frameworks, improvement methodologies and socially responsible engagement practices.
Lean Analytics Association
Dr. Flores has over 20 years of experience collaborating as internal or external consultant in different manufacturing and services organizations leading different strategic initiatives related to Lean Thinking, Business Process improvement, Supply Chain, E-business, Digital Factory, Change Management, Open Innovation and Service Design; providing also training and coaching.
Currently she is the president and co-founder of the Lean Analytics Association (LAA) and visiting scholar at the College of Management of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
She completed her PhD on Industrial Engineering in 2006 at the Politecnico di Milano, her Master’s Degree in Manufacturing Systems in 1999 and a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Monterrey Tech in 1996.