Our occasional guest author Dan Markovitz has an article in the latest Industry Week titled Get Lean Get Innovative where he discusses a common problem in business: finding time. Finding time to firefight problems, attend meetings, resolve to customer issues, and if by some miracle there’s some time left over, then finding time to innovate.
We’ve all heard the stories of how some exemplary companies stimulate innovation, and we wish we had that luxury,
Google, for example, is well-known for its "20% time," in which employees are allowed — even encouraged — to use 20% of their time on offbeat projects.
3M predates Google in this approach. The company has a similar "15% rule" that encourages technical staff to work on projects of their own choosing. And it offers venture capital-like "Genesis Grants" of $50,000 to for researchers to develop prototypes.
Chiquita picks its best people — even pulling them out of areas where they’re contributing — and tells them not to worry about the day-to-day business, but rather to think about how they’re going to make their quota in two years. Similarly, Lockheed Martin is legendary for its Skunk Works. The company built an entirely separate facility to house people they feel can dream up breakthrough innovations.
Other companies devote Friday’s or the last hour of each day to "innovation." But how does a typical company do that? How do they find the time? That’s where lean, and especially the non-manufacturing aspects such as lean office, can help out.
Lean isn’t just about reducing defects and WIP. It’s about finding better ways to work. It’s about eliminating waste of all forms.
Take a close look around your offices, and spot the waste. See the office that looks like Katrina just hit? Calculate the time squandered searching for a file in that mess — time that could be spent innovating. Think the 8,000 messages in someone’s email inbox is just a hassle for the IT department? Imagine each of those emails as inventory, an inventory of ideas that’s not flowing smoothly down the value stream to the customer, an inventory that’s impeding innovation. See the multi-tasking rampant in your workplace (often caused by you, by the way, when you interrupt with a sudden question.) Think of the inefficiency caused by those interruptions — a loss from 20-40%, according to a study by the University of Michigan and the FAA — and think of the innovation that could have been occurring.
Implementing lean in the production environment will shorten cycle times, improve on-time delivery, and improve quality. That will reduce the amount of time spent firefighting customer service issues. Similarly, apply lean methods to development, office, and administrative activities will reduce the time spent filing, finding paperwork, and even making decisions.
You’ve just found some free time to focus on the future. Read Dan’s entire article here.