I often hear business leaders say, “If we’re doing Lean, do we really need Innovation Engineering too?”, or “We’re good: we do Lean.” Thinking that Innovation Engineering and Lean are interchangeable is a common mistake. The truth is that Lean needs Innovation Engineering to be most effective. And when a company uses Lean well, they have the discipline and foundation set for Innovation Engineering.
When I started working in manufacturing in the mid-nineties, Lean was taking off. Companies were embracing the concept of driving waste out of their organizations and focusing on value. I had the opportunity to be seconded to a one-year project where we were tasked with splitting one division that manufactured multiple product lines into two, with the ‘new’ division leveraging Lean principles. It was a challenging and rewarding experience for me. And while Lean did a great job at maximizing the efficiency of processes and focusing on continuous improvement, I found myself asking the question, “What if we’re missing something by focusing only on the continuous improvement of an existing process?”
Enter Innovation Engineering. As a Black Belt, I’ve come to appreciate the emphasis this system puts on leveraging disruptive and divergent images, quotes, data (aka “stimulus”) and team diversity to come up with new concepts that are both meaningful (to the company, its employees and its customers) and unique to the market. Once those concepts are formulated, we see incredible similarities emerge between how Innovation Engineering and Lean work.
Let’s first start by highlighting the common threads between Lean and Innovation Engineering:
The common foundation between Lean and Innovation Engineering means that the two often complement one another:How They Differ
Innovation Engineering focuses on idea generation and testing through to delivery of a product, service or system to a customer. It is all about speed and learning as fast as you can by trying things and (as we like to say) failing fast and failing cheap. As we get smarter, our innovation takes shape and we get to a place where we can deliver it to our customer.
Lean does more of a deep dive into existing systems and processes to determine where waste exists and focuses relentlessly on driving it out to gain efficiencies. Innovation in the form of a new product or service isn’t a consideration.
How Lean and IE Work Together
So how can they work together? Well, consider this example: What if you wanted to come up with a new way to deliver a high volume product or service to your customer?
So, in a nutshell, why does Lean need Innovation Engineering?
Lean has a solid toolkit for driving out waste and building internal capacity, but for an organization to truly transform, it needs the power of Innovation Engineering.