The Mastery of Innovation

The Mastery of Innovation book cover
The Mastery of Innovation book cover

Today’s post is a little different as it’s inspired by a book, and I have to give away before we start that I like The Mastery of Innovation – a Field Guide to Lean Product Development by Katherine Radeka. This is story about how innovation can be enhanced and enabled by using Lean principles, so long as it’s done in a thoughtful way. The book is based on the author’s personal exploration of how different companies (including Novo Nordisk, Ford and Scania) have attempted to use Lean in their product development in order to speed up innovation to generate new products faster.

For some readers, the biggest surprise here may well be that Lean is described here as one way of increasing innovation. Indeed the whole idea of minimizing variation and having standard ways of working doesn’t immediately sound as if it supports a culture that allows for break-through ideas. Some straightforward ideas do come through that help break down that mental barrier:

  • use Lean to minimize the time that scientists and engineers spend on non-productive work such as administration
  • watch out for interruptions to people’s time: short interruptions can have a disproportionate impact on people involved in product development

However, one of the messages that comes out most strongly is that there is no recipe for applying Lean to innovation: each company needs to try and evolve the process over time. The majority of the book covers case studies from different companies, and it’s clear from these that they take quite different approaches and that even if there are underlying Lean principles that recur, the actions each company took were different.

For me, the best insight I got from the book concerns the classic wastes from Lean production (sometimes we use the acronym TIMWOOD to help practitioners remember transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, overproduction, and defects). When, we have used these internally, we have often asked staff to try to translate these concepts into something that is relevant to them and their work. The author of this book takes a different approach and asks instead what really are the important wastes for product development, and comes with a rather different list which are more specific and include design loopbacks, reinvention and un-productive meetings. The whole book can be seen as a way to challenge us to re-think Lean for product development, rather than simply make adaptations to Lean production. And for that, I’m grateful.

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