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In 1996, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones popularized the term “lean thinking”. It was their expression for what they’d observed studying Toyota’s manufacturing operations: an absence of waste. Today, lean concepts have moved beyond the factory floor to become an organizing set of principles and practices applicable to all business operations and activities, including entrepreneurial start-ups. Every idea in your company can benefit from a lean approach, be it a product, process, service, or strategy. But what does it really mean to be lean?
It’s often easier to describe what lean isn’t than what it is. Lean isn’t about being spartan, skinny or stingy. It isn’t about slash-and-burn cost cutting, reducing headcount or beating up suppliers to get the lowest price. Being lean means systematically removing anything impeding the free flow of value to the receiving party. Lean innovation isn’t about doing more with less; it’s about doing better with less. That might sound like a nuance, but think about it: You’ve undoubtedly said “no more” many times, even about something good. When was the last time you said, “Let’s not have better”? There’s no limit on better.
To keep your innovation efforts lean, you have to wage an all-out war on waste. There are seven basic varieties…