Allen Ward’s academic résumé begins with a bachelor’s degree in history from the
University of Oregon. He always maintained an interest in history and often used
historical references in his arguments and explanations of whatever issues he studied. Upon college graduation, he joined the U.S. Army where he served 10 years. He proudly completed combat leadership training at the U.S. Army Ranger School in Fort. Benning, Ga., and later toured Korea and attained the rank of Captain. While Stationed in Hawaii, he completed a second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, From there, Al left the Army and entered MIT as a Ph.D. student. He joined a group in the artificial intelligence laboratory interested in developing tools to automate mechanical engineering design tasks. He developed a prototype software tool and in the process stumbled upon a new design theory he called set-based design. During his time at UM. Al pursued an aggressive research agenda. Some of his students
were developing design automation software that put his theory into computer code leading Al to discover that standard set propagation theory was inadequate for multidimensional design problems. So other students were developing new mathematical representations and logical operations to tackle these problems. Still other students were working on enhancing existing design methodologies using his new theory. And finally, Al was interested to know if any human engineers practiced a form of his set-based design theory, the interest that led him to Toyota and affiliates. Al’s first trip to “Toyota’s headquarters in Japan was in 1993, with Yasuko Ward-his wife and Ford Motor Company engineer- serving as interpreter. The ideas and hypotheses flew fast and furiously. The hypotheses were helpful to John, who was himself trying to figure how to conceptualize and articulate Toyota’s product development system. Unlike the company’s manufacturing processes–already famous by that time as the Toyota Production System- the product development system had never been fully described. Even inside the company, while engineers and managers understood concretely how the system worked and how to manage it effectively, describing it simply and holistically was another matter.
This topic became the subject of Durward’s Ph.D. research. Durward studied Japanese intensively for a year and-a-half, then spent six months in Japan interviewing Toyota engineers and engineering managers about all aspects of Toyota’s product development system. Towards the end of this stay, Al made another study trip to Japan, sleeping on tatami mats in Durward’s apartment to save money. This cost-saving measure had an unexpected side benefit: Discussion of the day’s interviews continued into the long
hours of the evening. The research continued after the trip as we interviewed American and Japanese engineers working in Toyota’s U.S. operations in Ann Arbor, Mich., and
Erlanger, Ky: The preliminary synthesis of the ideas for this book began during the many hours of debate, clarification, and theory building Al and Durward had while preparing presentations and workshops based on the Toyota research. As Durward was finishing his Ph.D. work. Al left academia and started a consulting and specialty machine design company. In this capacity, he was in the unique position to: a) observe conventional product development systems in many companies, b) continue to contemplate and develop the ideas that came out of the Toyota research, experiment with the ideas in his own design activities, and d) learn by helping companies try out the concepts and dramatically improve performance. Over the ensuing years, John had the opportunity to work with Al to assist companies in their pursuit to become lean enterprises, John was often Al’s sounding board. As he discovered each new aspect of Toyota’s product development world or-just of Toyota-Al would offer up his analysis or assessment. Before the hypotheses, though, were always the questions, such as “Lean is about eliminating waste, so what is waste’ in product development and why is it that engineers never talk about it?” “Does the lean concept of takt time’ apply to the product development world” “How much of an engineer’s time is spent doing actual engineering work? How much of his or her time should be spent doing engineering work?” Through discussing and even arguing these ideas, slowly but steadily comprehensive sense of “Lean Product Development” began to emerge. Work continued, and the pace quickened, as more companies became intrigued with his ideas and sought his consulting help. The ideas continued to evolve, and were reflected in his presentation materials to clients and in his workshops. Business continued to pick up. He hired a team of bright young graduates to support him, was in the process of capturing his knowledge in the form of interactive video, and was brimming over with enthusiasm for his work. To become more efficient and serve his clients better, and at the same time pursue a lifelong love of flying, Allen purchased a light aircraft with which he could fly between client locations without being beholden to the schedules and routes of the commercial airlines. Tragically, en route to deliver a workshop at a west coast client’s site, Allen Ward and the two passengers on board died in an airplane crash on May 31, 2004.