How to Foster Innovation in a Lean Organisation

How do you foster innovation in a lean organisation? Is it even possible to be lean and innovative at the same time? Or does the pursuit of efficiency and cost-cutting lead to more bureaucratic processes, more layers of management, and less opportunity for product development?

There are certainly leaders and managers who may think so.  They may even try to force their workforce into such thinking.  But this isn’t true at all. Lean companies can—and do—foster innovation at every level of the organisation, from the front lines all the way up to the executive suite.  Read on to learn how to foster innovation in your business.

What is innovation?

The world’s most productive companies have one thing in common: they have an effective system for fostering innovation.  This involves getting people on board who are keen to come up with new solutions to old problems.  In addition, it encourages employees’ creativity by eliminating bureaucracy and builds systems that enable continuous improvement.

To innovate is more than just coming up with new ideas. It involves looking at your organisation and changing things in order to make them better. An innovative company doesn’t just produce new products or services.  It has a culture of innovation, where it constantly looks for ways to improve all aspects of its operations, from improving quality control or production line efficiency through to providing better customer service.

Not every company can be cutting-edge, but every company can try to be progressive, open-minded and forward-thinking. Being innovative isn’t about taking giant leaps into uncharted territory.  Moreover, it’s about doing everything you do better than you’ve done before.

How does Lean help my organisation to innovate?

Companies that follow these 5 Lean Principles are better able to develop more innovative products and services, even during these financially challenging times. These businesses have managed innovation by keeping production costs low and freeing up funds for R&D activities that can stimulate business growth.

Lean Principles allow companies to grow their innovation capacity.  Lean is commonly misinterpreted as being purely about cutting costs, but it’s much more than that. The Lean way of thinking is about constantly improving products and processes by eliminating waste and increasing efficiency, which can have huge benefits for innovation and company culture.

Principle 1: Focus on Value

Innovation begins with value – what is it that your customers want? What could they get that would solve their problems and make their lives easier? When you focus on these issues, you will find solutions that take up less space and use fewer resources, meaning less lead time, reduced inventory and lower costs. Let’s face it, no-one wants wasted money or unnecessary complexity.  The solution is always simpler than it first appears.

Principle 2: Value Stream Mapping

The Value Stream Map helps identify ways of eliminating waste and improving processes. Learning how to use it will save you time and money by finding out exactly what is happening within your process. This can be used for Lean Startups or any business that needs quick and easy methods for problem-solving.

Problem Solving Solutions

Principle 3: Flow

This may be one of lean’s most important and powerful principles. In simple terms, it calls for every person in your organisation to continuously create and deliver value in order to provide customers with what they want.

Principle 4: Pull

When launching new products or services, you need to be proactive about innovation rather than reactive. You also need to take into account how our products or services will fit into people’s lives and consider what they might want from us that we don’t yet offer. Lean innovation is all about making smart decisions based on customers’ feedback and using data-driven insights.

Principle 5: Perfection

Never making a mistake is not only an unrealistic goal, it’s also one that can cripple your organisation. Lean businesses foster innovation and creativity by tolerating failures as part of their learning process.  They recognise that mistakes are opportunities for improvement rather than shortcomings to be punished. When someone points out a failure within your team, don’t use it as an opportunity to point out how you would have done things differently; instead take them seriously.  People are more likely to experiment if they know their efforts won’t be harshly criticised if they fail.

What can you innovate?

It’s easy to think that innovation is limited to products or processes, but it can come from anywhere. Ask yourself, “What can I innovate right now?”

Types of innovation

How do you foster a culture of innovation?

Many companies seek to foster innovation. But how do you make innovation a core tenet of your organisation?

According to Boston Consulting Group, strong innovators place a strong emphasis on clear processes.  Companies that were the first to adopt Lean R&D processes gained a considerable competitive edge by developing higher-quality goods up to six months ahead of their competition.

Strong Innovators Chart

The first step in encouraging innovation is getting top-level support. Then, start with some basic tenets: clear vision and strategy, empowered people, inclusion, respect, trust and cross-functional teams that interact closely with customers and suppliers.

Organisations need to create an atmosphere where every member of staff feels like they have permission to innovate and experiment with ideas. The key here is collaboration – finding ways for people from different teams to work together. Encouraging open dialogue between departments is one way for different ideas to come together and lead to innovative solutions for problems big and small.

Fostering healthy communication between managers and employees goes hand-in-hand with collaboration.  If team members aren’t comfortable bringing their questions and concerns about new initiatives directly to their superiors, then it’s unlikely their opinions will be heard at all during decision-making processes.

Finally, set short-term and long-term metrics for measuring success.  In addition, you need to communicate these metrics clearly across all levels of your company . While it’s impossible to be innovative at every turn, if you strive for consistency across these fundamentals you’ll soon see improvements at every level of your business.

Key Questions for Leaders

Innovation is incredibly important in any organisation, but it’s not an easy thing to foster when you’re running lean.  Leadership is key to innovation, and leaders must create an environment that fosters innovation.

Unfortunately, leadership skills are often overlooked when it comes to fostering innovation. The secret of good leadership is understanding people; we all have different thoughts and ideas on what makes us innovative. A leader’s job is not only to understand people’s motives but also their strengths and weaknesses, so they can foster them accordingly.

Innovation for Leaders


While some might worry that it’s difficult or impossible to foster innovation when working within a lean structure.  It’s really not. It just takes different skills, processes and attitudes. A lean organisation can be innovative as long as leaders are clear about what they want their employees to focus on.  They understand how their innovations will create value for both customers and business objectives, and they make sure that everyone on staff knows what value means.

Key Questions to Consider

  • When was the last time you successfully launched a new product or service?

  • Who is the driving force for innovation in your company?

  • What is stopping you from innovating more frequently?

  • Do you have a company culture that encourages new ideas and innovation?

  • Do you empower your employees to be innovative?

  • Are you open to new ideas, new processes and new ways of doing things?

If you need help finding which Lean tool or strategy best suits your business, you can contact us for a free consultation.

You may also be interested in reading about Why Companies are turning to Online Experiential Learning for Training & Development and Why you need to become a Lean Leader  All our blogs are available to read here  Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *