Lean and Innovation

Lean and innovation aren’t mutually exclusive

Lately I’ve been reading posts and articles about how Lean and innovation aren’t compatible.

I think I understand where this is coming from, but I think this misunderstands the point a little.

Some people are attempting to ‘be lean’ whilst being innovative. Typically, this means they are trying to keep innovation costs down and eliminate waste from the innovation process.

I think this is the wrong idea completely – and perhaps this is where the disconnect comes from.

We shouldn’t be talking about reducing costs when you innovate – innovation costs money. Innovation needs failure. It needs free thinking and new ideas. Not all ideas will be a winner. If you go into an innovation cycle expecting to get it right first time – again, you’re missing the point.

Innovation requires learning – mistakes and failure are our greatest gifts when we are learning.

That’s not to say we should be indiscriminately wasting money when innovating. Waste can still be avoided – for example, you’ve unnecessarily made a global team travel to a single location for a meeting that could have been a Video call. That’s just wasteful.

Instead, we should be focusing on the Lean concepts that matter most when innovating:

Eliminating waste and failure from the customer experience and maximising value

This is what we should be focusing on when innovating with Lean. I can’t imagine a scenario where you are developing a new product or service, where the above statement isn’t relevant.

You might have to try and fail a few times – but ultimately, you’re looking to design the best customer experience possible for a customer. Here are some lean ideas to keep in mind when innovating:

  • keep customer effort to a minimum
  • develop something that a customer would value
  • think about how it could go wrong
  • think about different user experiences – not just the main user experience
  • reduce or eliminate the chance of failure driving secondary contacts
  • be relentless in your improvement and refining of your innovation

I guess what I’m really saying here is, you’ll get more value applying your lean tools and techniques to the outcome of your innovation, rather than trying to apply them to the innovation cycle itself.

I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts here – especially those who disagree – do you think Lean is not applicable to innovation?