Lean innovation has broken out of the startup silo and is quickly becoming pervasive across all industries in companies of all sizes. The need for a customer-focused mindset, speed and agility, and not fearing small failures in the pursuit of big wins is critical in a world that is moving at the speed of the Internet. This is true not only of external facing functions, but also internal departments focused on improving business operations. The shift to this mindset may seem daunting, but through a straightforward, lean, and innovation framework, departments can start systematically shepherding teams through each step of the “business model” exploration for internal processes, from idea to scale.
This framework consists of three parts: empathy, ideation, and experimentation. This enables the creation of the value stream, crucial to driving innovation. The value stream, defined as analyzing the current state and creating a future state, for any new IT product or service is unknown. The process of identifying what the business must do to discover, create, and deliver value therefore must be learned. This consists of identifying your customers (typically other employees), their most important problem, and a minimum viable product then testing using lean innovation principles.
The key to the entire process is not only knowing your customer, but also understanding and empathizing with them. Go watch your customers use your current systems. Go do their job for a week and understand what it is like to be them. Get team members attached to the pain points their customers are experiencing. This will increase effectiveness as well as emotionally anchor team members to solving customer problems instead of just coming up with cool technology-based solutions.
Building off of customer empathy, the next step in the process is to create an environment in which a team can brainstorm; this is the search phase when educated guesses are made to be tested later on. It is in this situation that teams can begin to think about the value stream for a new product, new service or innovation to an existing product or service. By brainstorming these assumptions and prioritizing based on uncertainty and criticality for each step of the value stream from customers first becoming aware of the solution to being passionate about it, your teams have set forth their opinions of what must be true for the solution to work, which will be tested in the next steps.
Brainstorming set the foundation of what gets customers to a “satisfied” state. Lean experiments change those assumptions made previously into facts; from here, teams design, and execute experiments to validate or invalidate their riskiest assumptions. These experiments are, in essence, ideas constructed as hypotheses to measure specific customer behavior and data metrics.
The final step of the lean innovation process is to test what has been experimented upon and is the absolute minimum needed to test your assumptions. Use evidence and insights from experiments to iterate through the entire value stream, testing Minimum Viable Product, Customer Satisfaction and Passion, how to market and scale, as well as how to make internal customers aware of the new product or service. The ultimate goal of this step is to finally take your solution from theory to practice and build the case for a solution.
The lean innovation process improves business dramatically by increasing efficiency and competitiveness. More broadly, it fundamentally changes how employees approach and work through issues they face every day at work and even beyond.