Lean Innovation

Lean + Innovation = The Power Couple


Lean concepts employed in the innovation process add a powerful punch. A new product designed to be Lean to make and use benefits everyone. If the process to design it is also Lean, even better. The idea of Lean Innovation is everywhere. The benefit of Lean doesn’t end there, though. In a workplace where Lean tools have been deployed, the people are spending less time on meaningless tasks and have more time to add value in new ways – to innovate.

That’s where we find our Power Couple. Innovation requires time to observe and think. Lean creates that time.

Look at the current state of things

If the current processes lead to lots of rework (wasted materials and time), bottlenecks (wasted time and energy), and the often resulting “hurry up and end wait” loop, the people in the process don’t have the time or energy, or maybe interest, to work on improvements. By the end of a shift, everyone just wants to go home to get away from the frustration at work. Motivating anyone in that situation is difficult. Asking them to creative and innovative can be even harder.

Lean is known for reducing the time necessary to get anything done and giving everyone a voice to express concerns or ideas for improvement. That is the perfect combination to not only make more time for innovation to occur, but also create an environment where people believe their suggestions will be taken seriously. Without that last part, there is almost no chance that people will take the time to develop ideas or step forward to share them.

Let’s get real

This (Lean means more time to innovate and take action on ideas) is, of course, a little idealistic. In the real world, there are people who won’t be interested in doing anything more than their regular jobs. That’s okay, because they can do other things like build the new design their co-workers came up with. 

There will be Leaders who won’t take the time to listen to new ideas. That’s also okay. When everyone else is outperforming them, they may change their tune. It would also be worth asking them why they aren’t listening to improvement ideas, because it may not be all due to their own attitude or values.

There will be ideas that get written down somewhere and never looked at again, regardless of how good they are or how much of a difference they might make. We’re all busy and old habits die hard. After all, we’re only human. This also has an easy solution. Put those ideas in a parking lot where people will see them and let them take action on the ones they feel drawn to.

What you can do now

More good news – there are also some things we can do and think about to make sure that we keep Lean and Innovation in mind everyday. In order to harness the full potential of this power couple, we need to be looking for opportunities and ideas everywhere. Here are a few ways to get your mind going.

  • Do your co-workers have a way to suggest or record improvement ideas? If not, this is a good place to start. The people who work directly with the processes are often the best ones to identify problem areas and suggest solutions. The same goes for the people who work with the products, including Engineers, Installers and Service Techs. (Hint, a suggestion boxisn’t always the best solution.)
  • Look at your own processesand find ways to streamline yourself.If you start paying attention to the way you do things, you might find yourself wasting time by rereading emails, adding small tasks to a list when they could be done in the same amount of time, or over-organizing. All of those things take away time when you could be working on something that adds value for the Customer, or leaving work on time for a change.
  • Take note of process complaints and questions you get often. There may be ways to better communicate the process so that people don’t need to spend time tracking down answers. Instead, they could be spending that time working on a project team that’s trying to troubleshoot a common Customer complaint.

Take the next step

What other Lean tools could you turn into daily practices? How could they free up your mind to innovate? Who in your organization is being overlooked when it comes to process improvement and product innovation? How could you include them?Whichever path you choose, the key is to start thinking of Lean as a path toward more time for innovation. It’s not just a great way to cut costs and improve quality

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