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Do “Lean” and “Innovation” Go Together?

by Langdon on August 2, 2011


lean innovation toyota assembly line

Once the Toyota management system became more widely known by the single word “lean,” it became a fad and a mantra (and also a boon for authors and consultants who have been able to help companies adopt the lean mindset and methods).  In the process of doing so, a great number of companies and indeed entire industries have been quite substantially transformed.

There has been no comparable compelling fad mentality  behind the drive for “innovation,” and no need for it, because the inexorable dynamics of the competitive environment  have assured innovation a prominent place in the management mentality.

Lean is not innovation, and innovation is not lean, but is there a way to reconcile these two?

Recently I received a copy of the book Lean Innovation, the intent of which is certainly to show how these two pursuits overlap.


I read a lot of innovation books, and what I have found with many of them, even some good ones, is that they start out strong but then they sort of taper off as they slowly run out of material before reaching the required number of pages.  With these books, slogging through the last 100 pages or so can be a chore.

With Lean Innovation, I found the opposite to be true.  Here, the difficult reading was the first 100 pages, where the authors lay out the rationale of lean.  I suppose they had to write a solid introduction, but they unfortunately stretched it out far too long.

And so, just when I was about to give up on it, here comes the good stuff.

Chapters 6 – 9 proved to be very interesting, well written, really valuable, and quite insightful.  Here the authors really show their expertise and their passion, and just as good, they share page after page of great tools and techniques for managing the often-hidden guts of the innovation process.  Lots of photos and helpful graphics move the story along through a detailed view of the innovation portfolio process, project management for innovation (which is different than project management for everything else), support, and then a nice concluding chapter.

For example, the description of the portfolio process includes a dozen or more useful graphics, and even a photo of a “portfolio war room” that you’ll hardly ever see, because most companies keep these REALLY secret.  In the following chapter you’ll find many tools for project management, including a very insight model of how to run a project status meeting.

If you are an innovation practitioner you may find the parts about lean more to your liking than I did, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find the practical tools quite interesting and perhaps very useful.

I probably should have guessed this when I looked at the bios of the authors, Claus Sehested and Henrik Sonnenburg.  Their company is called “Implement,” and based on what’s in this book, it’s pretty clear that they do know quite a lot about implementation.

If you do happen to read the book, I would interested to know if you agree with my assessment.  Please email me or leave a comment here.  Thanks!


Full Disclosure:  The authors sent me the book because they wanted me to review it here.  (I told them I would include it in the blog only if I found good things to say about it.)


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Philippe November 24, 2012 at 12:13 am

Thank you so much for your interesting point of view. Since fiew months, i wonder if there would be a relevant link between Lean and Innovation. First, my interest was focus on TRIZ method, even if it not really a lean approach (maybe a Lean tool?). In my opinion, the innovative concept of Prius show there sould be a link betwween TPS and Innovative approach. AM I in a wrong way ?
Anyway, i’ll follow your advice and read the book “lean Innovation”.

Farnaz April 26, 2013 at 3:20 am

Spot on my friend!
I gave up reading the book right before chapter6!
I picked it up two months ago from my book shelf and start to continue from the point that I gave up !
After couple of hours I found myself drawn to the book!
It helped me a lot to build up and build around my own lean innovation framework !
Portfolio management, reducing development time to see the wastes, examples of lean innovation all and all are my favorite parts.
Definitely worth-reading book!

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