If it’s a Pipeline, it’s leaking

Many times we view the Product Development System as a Pipeline where we pour effort and energy in, and out comes a product sometime later. You’ve probably used this analogy before, talking about “products in the pipeline” or “the R&D pipeline”.


Seems pretty intuitive, and I use that analogy too. Except I recently thought perhaps the analogy isn’t quite right. If you’re working in a Waterfall or phase-gate process, it’s not a single pipeline. It’s a series of smaller pipe lengths which are joined together by hand-offs:


The trouble with hand-offs is that they generate waste.Throughout the journey there can be more energy lost in hand-offs than actually make it out of the pipeline. In every joint, effort and energy leaks out.


I find this analogy is a little more fitting, and although it’s a simple visual it helps make the point about hand-offs at the simplest possible level. The discussion usually turns to “what are the leaks and how we stop them” and there is your entry to discuss Lean and Waste.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “If it’s a Pipeline, it’s leaking

  1. Good analogy and visual.

    I believe every hand-off should have clear and sensible requirements (a.k.a tests). If the tests do not pass, that hand off should fail and instead of proceeding to the next stage of the pipeline, the process must go back (loop back) to perform that part of the pipeline again.

    In software development, often there are issues in the early stages of a product, for example the “requirements”, but that is ignored and moved on. Obviously, it result comes back later, usually in much uglier form 🙂

  2. Right, yes keep the defects contained to the phase in which they were introduced. Whether we’re doing Waterfall or Agile, one critical aspect is to not let the technical debt grow… And if your’e working in an Agile way – eliminating the hand-off itself would be even better!

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