“Bells and Whistles” are the extras on a product…or on a process.
On a product, bells and whistles are the features that enhance the product, but don’t significantly change the function. Years ago, power windows were part of the bells and whistles packages that carmakers used to distinguish cars from their competitors. Nowadays, backup sensors and blind spot detection are the extras.
Bells and whistles often drift from extras to essentials as Lean customers come to expect the item and every competitor offers them.
Bells and whistles pose an interesting problem in Lean manufacturing, as the cycle time to add the product enhancement increases with each feature selected.
Processes also have bells and whistles associated with them. A basic version of a process is usually sufficient. When people start to add more and more to that process, though—packing in the bells and whistles—the process can quickly become overly complicated which can add waste to the value stream.
Simplicity in a Lean workplace is almost always better.