Lean Innovation

I thought I’d write a short note on the vogue topic of Lean Innovation.  Lots of people talk about it, but does it really exist?

We all know that Lean has its roots in automotive manufacturing, particularly Toyota, and it seems to me that this has spawned two schools of “lean” thought.  Firstly there are the theorists who describe Lean in terms of principles; reduce waste, increase customer value, continuously improve, etc.  Then there are the pragmatists who talk about Lean in terms of proven best practices; cellular production, pull scheduling, daily stand-up meetings and so on.

So where does this leave us in the world of Innovation.

Here too we can take both lines.  For the theorists amongst you there is huge waste in terms of design and development rework.  Just start measuring how much of your development effort is actually used.  Then, once you’ve recovered, focus on increasing it.  In fact the cycle of Measure – Review – Problem Solve – Improve is a Lean classic and totally applicable to the Innovation world.   And for the pragmatists there are now proven answers we can jump to directly;  portfolio dashboards, phase and gate processes, rough cut resource planning, and so on.

So to conclude; Yes, Lean Innovation certainly does exist.  In comparing with Lean Manufacturing, the principles are similar, the best practices are largely different.  And if you want an idea to muse over, I wonder if the whole idea of the Toyota Production System was actually a deliberate misdirection, which started an unexpected manufacturing revolution.  Surely the true strength of Toyota has always been its design rather than its production.