Going Lean in Large Organisations

In a way, the answers to this question are easier to resolve for startup and small businesses. They have fewer resources and therefore fewer routes to market. Large organisations suffer the tyranny of choice – too many options – and therefore endure a higher risk of paralysis in the face of many paths and variable uncertainty.

One of the most effective tools businesses have employed to break through these limitations is the lean methodology, not just because it is effective but because it is suitable for companies of all sizes.

Why Lean? Why Now?

For good reason, lean is often associate with startups. Building a company from the ground up means you focus only on the resources you need, there’s no flabby legacy systems to maintain. However, the real power of lean is not so much the methodology but the philosophy.

Lean is a mindset. It can adopted by anyone for all kinds of innovation cycles. The amount of capital involved in the project is irrelevant, the principle is what works: to create and test your hypotheses as efficiently as possible, and iterate accordingly.

Lean methodology is rightly capturing the attention of businesses in nearly every industry. Emerging tools have made collaboration, prototyping, and feedback much easier to achieve and it is this potent combination – fast, collaborative iteration – which is driving interest.

Big Business

If lean is the natural approach for startups, the principle of planned innovation within large organisations seems equally alluring. It is rarely so simple.

Entrepreneur George Kliavkoff argues for lean to succeed in large organisations, they need three fundamental elements:

  • An executive mandate;
  • A creative structure; and
  • Patient capital.

Needless to say, anyone who has worked in a large organisation would say that any one of these items is difficult enough on its own to secure, much less all three. This is the quixotic nature of lean methodology in the enterprise environment.

As innovators grapple with the reality of infrastructure dedicated to the efficient delivery of a (presumably) profitable, existing product, there are two primary outcomes.

First, the team promises to deliver ‘fat’ innovation; that is, a full-fledged road map and a certain amount of revenue in exchange for executive funding. Alternatively, their attempts at lean innovation are stymied by drip-feed of budget, low tolerance for failure and a general resistance to experimentation.

Can lean fit with corporate innovation? It’s not easy but opportunities remain. Research suggests that along with getting explicit Board support, there are other a few other building blocks which may increase the chances of success.

Giving executives and team leaders the language to speak about innovation is one important component to engendering overall buy-in. This includes framing the innovation process in a way that makes sense in the context of larger business objectives.

Also, autonomy to make decisions and experiment is another crucial component. This is more than funding, it is instilling a different attitude towards change – and failure. This may be the most difficult challenge facing large organisations but the potential rewards make the effort worth it.

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