Lean Thinking and the Innovation Process

Lean Thinking and the Innovation Process

Hilal Hurriyet (Western Sydney University, Australia) and Dilupa Nakandala (Western Sydney University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9615-8.ch022
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This chapter analyses the evolution of lean thinking and its widening applications from its origin of the manufacturing industry towards the other industries with the emphasis on how organizations could learn from lean thinking for achieving improved performance of innovation processes. Based on the degree of novelty, uncertainty and complexity associated with innovation processes, direct adoption of lean thinking for optimization is considered to be challenging. We discuss that organizations need to realize that there are opportunities for lateral learning from lean applications that have benefited systematic repetitive processes such as manufacturing by adapting to innovation processes through identification and shedding of non-value added activities. By identifying several lean innovation approaches in practice for optimizing innovation process, we stress the need and opportunity for the adaptation of lean thinking to cater the special characteristics of innovation processes.
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Lean concepts and their importance for optimum utilization of resources through the reduction of waste are not completely alien to contemporary managers. While the adoption of the lean concepts in standard production has been accepted without hesitation and practiced in organizations successfully, its application in innovation processes which inherit novelty, uncertainty and complexity is known to be challenging (Browning & Sanders, 2012). While enhanced efficiency is a universal need in process management, effects on the process effectiveness need to be managed not to lose the organizational competitiveness through innovation. Irrespective of the efforts in integrating lean principles with the innovation process there seems to be a lack of consensus due to the perceived hindering effects of process improvement and standardization approaches on creativity and flexibility that are essential for an effective innovation process.

Lean thinking principles are directed towards specifying value, identifying value stream, avoiding interruptions in value flow, letting customers pull value and starting pursuing perfection again. For a lean production process, steps that would not add value to the customer should be eliminated through problem-solving for a streamlined process. Lean Thinking has become a well-known shared language practiced in diverse industries and settings and resulted in increased learning (Stone, 2012). It covers “highly integrated elements and a wide variety or management practices” (Bhamu & Sangwan, 2014). It can become an effective learning process for organizations for promoting ‘thinkers’ (Alves, Dinis-Carvalho,& Sousa, 2012) and its links to the sustainability of organizations take the learning process to stakeholders. However, organizational culture and leadership remain as some key factors that will impact the success of implementation (Ingelson & Martensson, 2014). In fact, lean thinking is itself a form of an innovation, a gradual one, resulting in operational integration (Gamme & Aschehoug, 2014).

This chapter focuses on how innovation process is influenced by lean thinking based on the existing literature. It analyzes the evolution of lean thinking from its initial application in manufacturing industries to other broader areas. It discusses the evolution of the innovation process modelling and the applicability of linear process models with non-linear approaches and specific attempts to improve the efficiency of the innovation process. It investigates the impact of lean thinking process on the innovation process and discusses several approaches in practice in the implementation of lean innovation processes in organizations.

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