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5 Ways Lean Methodology Drives Innovation

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Adopting a lean methodology can have numerous benefits for a business. It increases productivity, boosts profitability, and improves the customer experience. But one of the biggest advantages is the way it can drive innovation. Implementing a lean approach encourages creativity, increases the volume of new ideas, and provides a framework for executing them. In this article, we discuss five ways that lean methodologies can drive day-to-day innovation in an organization.


An Introduction to Lean Thinking

This type of lean methodology was first described in a book called ‘Lean Thinking’ by Womack and Jones. It condensed the concept into five elements, which became known as the five principles of lean. In order to understand how lean thinking drives innovation, it’s first important to know what these principles are:

  1. Identify value – get to the root of what customers are willing to pay for
  2. Map value streams – where is value created, how can you reduce wastes, and where can extra processing be eliminated?
  3. Develop continuous workflows – the production process and handovers need to flow smoothly
  4. Create pull systems – where products are created based on customer demand
  5. Continuous improvement – to increase quality while reducing cycle times

When these lean principles are combined into a company’s processes and culture, they pave the way for more innovative production methods and operating systems.

Adopting them challenges staff to approach things differently, develop creative solutions, and foster innovative ideas. They prioritize value creation within an organization so that all efforts are then focused on that goal. This leads to greater customer satisfaction and increases in sales as potential clients see that your offering meets their precise needs. It also helps to streamline efforts and maximize resources by identifying areas of waste. By proactively reducing wastage, both efficiency and productivity are improved which directly impacts the bottom line. This is why implementing lean methodologies can be pivotal to a company’s transformation. They create a perfect storm of increasing sales and profitability which contributes to an organization’s success.


1 – Facilitates Focus

Implementing lean thinking is a sure-fire way to drive focus in any business from day one. It forces management teams to identify the most valuable aspects of their operations and eliminate others. By thinking lean, you remove many of the ‘nice to do’ parts in favor of the critically important. Your teams focus on the elements of a product or service that drive the most customer value. They concentrate on the activities that will truly move the needle instead of just staying busy.


This focus creates a unique form of innovation. It’s often said that constraint breeds creativity and this is definitely the case for lean organizations. By concentrating on the aspects that are most valued by customers, companies begin to see products and services in a new light. Process development is streamlined and value to the customer is made a priority. They may come up with different, more efficient ways of solving customer problems. Removing distractions means employees are able to distinguish the wood from the trees. It helps them to think more strategically about what they are trying to achieve and opens up new ways of reaching business objectives.


Although this type of methodology is commonly associated with lean manufacturing and industrial engineering, it can actually benefit any type of business. In software development, it’s normal to focus on creating a minimum viable product (MVP) instead of the entire thing. This challenges developers to deliver the greatest value and best customer experience, with a minimal amount of coding. It creates a focus on making the core offering as good as possible instead of developing all the features at once. Lean implementations don’t waste time on elements that customers may not want – they program the most important ones. As a result, their software product can sometimes go in an unexpected direction. What they’d anticipated turns out to be different from what customers actually wanted. This focused approach drives innovation in unexpected ways that are market-led and more likely to succeed.    


2 – Encourages Customer Feedback

The lean methodology also drives innovation by encouraging businesses to understand their customers. One of the key principles is to focus on those elements that derive the greatest customer value. But in order to understand what customers find most useful, companies first need to ask them. This interaction usually results in a wealth of new ideas that hadn’t been considered before. It breeds innovation as a natural by-product so that you can better serve your customers and clients.


Most companies already have some tools for gathering customer feedback but it’s generally not focused on value. They may have post-purchase surveys or chatbot tabs on their website, but these don’t allow you to drill down into what customers truly find valuable. However, you can learn a lot from speaking to people face to face. There’s nothing like picking up on subtle cues such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. These aren’t apparent in survey results, email feedback, or blog comments but can be particularly insightful. They can give you hints about follow-up questions to ask which may take you in new and innovative directions. This approach enables you to clarify statements and pull out different threads so that you can qualify demand before jumping into development.


3 – Inspires Iteration

Following a lean methodology also involves taking an iterative approach which makes innovation faster and easier. Aiming for continuous process improvement instead of large step changes means a business can make changes quickly. For most companies, implementing a small tweak is much more feasible than a large-scale change. It’s usually more practical and readily accepted by employees too. But by doing this continually, a business can generate significant improvements over time. Whether this is less waste, improved product quality, or more effective marketing, iteration makes innovation easier. Yet the transformation results are no less impressive than a large overhaul would have been. This type of Kaizen approach has been proven to work in large multinationals and small start-ups alike.

The lean philosophy gives employees permission to think ‘small and nimble’. These are qualities usually associated with start-ups as opposed to large enterprises, but the approach can provide a distinct advantage. Not every idea needs to be a big one – some of the best are things that are quick and easy to implement. These are the ones that contribute to continuous improvement and don’t get caught up in the bureaucracy sometimes associated with larger projects. Making iterative changes to a system or process can be an effective way to test ideas and assess their impact. When an effective solution is successfully piloted, it can then be rolled out on a larger scale. This also helps to iron out any kinks before introducing it back to the wider business. 

4 – Drives Employee Ideation

Implementation of lean processes can also drive employee engagement and encourage them to share their ideas. This means that innovation begins to happen at the ground level so your business benefits from the collective creativity of its entire workforce. In order to implement lean processes, you’ll need to involve team members that work on the front line. Consulting with them about the areas that drive value to the product or remove waste from the manufacturing process helps to engage them in what’s happening. If they see their ideas and suggestions being implemented, they’ll feel more valued as an employee. This makes them more likely to give back and suggest new ideas in the future which further boosts company innovation long-term.

Your staff is your greatest resource, yet many organizations overlook their importance. They miss out on opportunities to learn from their workforce’s collective intelligence and harness their specialist knowledge. Not only is this an avoidable form of waste but it can also make staff feel undervalued. By adopting the principles of lean, you empower employees to come up with ideas and solutions. Not only does this drive innovation and advancement, but it demonstrates that their thoughts are truly appreciated. So, organizations that use these methodologies realize the dual benefits of both innovative successes and increased engagement. They make full use of their workforce’s creativity, intellect, and problem-solving abilities, and are rewarded in the process.

5 – Creates Cultural Change

Lean training methods also encourage employees to make innovation a daily practice. It starts to happen automatically instead of being driven from the top down. Numerous case studies have found that this type of lean strategy approach gives staff a greater sense of purpose in their work. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks, they are allowed to focus on the most valuable few. This frees up mental space to think up new ways of improving those few things. If the lean methodology is adopted in combination with Kaizen philosophy, then employees are empowered to make improvements themselves. They are accountable for implementing their own suggestions and ideas so that innovation happens consistently. It also encourages greater respect for people which can aid communication, amp up cross-functional support, and reduce departmental silos.

Creating a culture of innovation is high on the list of priorities for many CEOs. However, the practical approach to doing so can be lacking. For some, it seems like an intangible goal that is hard to quantify or introduce into an organization. These methodologies provide the missing implementation aspect that so many management teams are looking for. The process of identifying value and finding ways to streamline its creation can motivate staff to think imaginatively. It gives them the opportunity to showcase their problem-solving abilities and share ideas that they might otherwise have kept to themselves. When practiced consistently, it creates a kind of muscle memory in employees so that creativity and innovation become embedded in their everyday habits. As they start to look for efficiency gains and continual improvement becomes a daily routine, cultural shifts occur and organizations benefit as a result.

Driving Innovation the Lean Way

Adopting a lean methodology can enable you to drive innovation in numerous meaningful ways. It facilitates focus so that your business can concentrate on doing key things in new and creative ways. It encourages customer feedback which creates a constant stream of new ideas that are likely to drive value in the final product. Lean techniques inspire process improvement through iteration which makes innovation more easily achievable. It also drives employees to take the initiative and creates an innovation culture, enabling companies to benefit from their inventive suggestions. If you subscribe to the lean thinking philosophy, your business can become more agile, innovative, and profitable.


How We Can Help

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using the Rever dashboard, you can monitor the performances of teams, understand their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.


The Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology that guides teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas and achieve continuous improvement. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations.


At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker, contribute to the organization’s success and thrive in their work through their contribution. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Interested in learning more or implementing the lean methodology in your own business? Then request a demo with one of our friendly team.

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