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Richard WolinLean Innovation

By Richard Wolin, Director of Training Services and MMTC Northern Michigan Office

When you hear the word “innovation” what do you think of?

New technologies, products, and processes are being launched at an increasing rate. They seem to come and go on a daily basis. In the past half dozen years, a number of books from innovation gurus have emerged linking lean thinking to the process of innovation.

If you think about it, the lean philosophy fits just about any process and lean tools can be used in endless combinations depending on the industry and situation. Lean thinkers are adding new tools and approaches to creatively address the peculiarities of new industry applications so it was only a matter of time before lean and innovation came together…

Most of what I’ve learned about innovation came from Doug Hall, former product developer at P&G, founder of the Eureka Ranch (Innovation consultant to fortune 100 companies), former judge on TV’s American Inventor, and developer of the Innovation Engineering System. What I like about the Innovation Engineering system is how it was built around the teachings of Dr. Deming with value to the customer, quick cycle Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA), and the “go see” principles that are central to lean thinking.

In short, the Innovation Engineering System follows a disciplined approach with PDCA at its center while funneling ideas through three phases:

  1. The Create phase focuses on developing as many ideas as possible. Diversity and creativity of cross-functional teams are critical to increase the number of ideas and time-tested tools are used to stimulate creative thinking.
  2. The Communicate phase helps the owner refine their ideas by forcing them to clearly articulate and pitch their ideas in terms of the benefit to the customer. Understanding the customer perspective can take the form of “go and see,” interviewing, and survey research.
  3. The Commercialize phase includes testing ideas with customers to gain their feedback, developing inexpensive prototypes, financial estimates, and addressing issues and unknowns that can kill a project. Hall’s “fail-fast, fail-cheap” mentality is necessary to let go of or modify ideas that lack customer interest. In Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, Ries referred to this as a “pivot.”

New products don’t stay new for long. Competitors bring alternatives and knockoffs into the market and before long even protected ideas become commodities. For this reason, a continuous funnel of ideas must be kept flowing into your innovation pipeline. For more information on developing your Innovation Engineering pipeline, contact your local Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC) office.

Richard Wolin, Director of Training Services
MMTC-North Region at Northwestern Michigan College
1701 East Front Street; Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 995-2003

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