IAM Talking: Lean Everywhere – small i to BIG I Innovation with Ken Shropshire




Welcome to IAM Talking, a periodic podcast interview series, with your host, Dan Keldsen, Chief Engagement Officer at Information Architected.

Today IAM Talking Lean Everywhere – small i to BIG I Innovation with Ken Shropshire, Director of Continuous Improvement from AstraZeneca.

Lean Powers, Activate!

Ken and I met each other when I was involved in an innovation challenge engagement in early 2012, and Ken was leading part of the charge in taking a Lean look at innovation opportunities internally.

For this interview we caught up roughly 6 months after the first wave of innovation challenges had closed out. Part of the staging of innovation challenges that we worked on, were specifically targeted using a set of Lean lenses, namely, the “7 Wastes of Lean” – applied to both flow, in this case, process/information flow, and in individual or organizational behavior. The 7 Wastes are: Defects, Overproduction, Inventory, Extra Processing, Motion, Transportation, and Waiting.

If you aren’t familiar with Lean, the traditional view, and history of Lean, comes from the manufacturing world, and the primary flag waver of Toyota and their Toyota Production System. It’s a large toolkit that is over 60 years old, and continues to expand out of manufacturing, into many areas of business life.

Focusing Innovation through Lean

Looking through a “Lean lens” at these types of waste in any business, you can remove the obstacles that cost your business in time, money and effort, that ultimately impact your time to market, your customer satisfaction (shipping defective products, for example), employee engagement (if they’re overburdened with work that THEY can see is not useful, but that’s demanded by management or regulators for example), etc..

In our case, while we were working together to “think outside of the box” for AstraZeneca, what people don’t realize, for innovation work, is that creating a completely blank slate for innovation, more often paralyzes your employees, than it will free them to go and “innovate.”

In our work together, we did a wide variety of interviews with employees in many different roles, and one of the filters we ran those interviews through, were in identifying where we could TARGET specific innovation challenges, by using the 7 wastes to identify those opportunities that may be easy wins, to get engagement and involvement, and that also were mentioned time and time again, especially across roles and departments, which helps create extended team opportunities.

As an example…

If we look at “overproduction” as one of the 7 wastes, and a behavioral twist, that translates into issues like:

  • Micromanagement
  • Many procedures
  • Transactional focus
  • and Destructive Politics

Which sounds a lot like “business as usual” for big companies… except that by using specific examples, and the language of Lean, we were able to carve out targeted, “judgement neutral” areas to engage real employees, up and down the org chart, to own up to issues and co-create fixes. From an engagement (as in “employee engagement”) standpoint, it worked extremely well to help focus their efforts.

The Double-edged Sword of Tenure

In the context of this engagement, when we were doing employee interviews, we ran into employees who had been there for 30 years or more. In many ways, it’s very easy for long-term employees to become part of the problem from a lean perspective. They’ve been IN the system so long, it can be hard to see the wastes of lean, and think constant improvement/innovation, and yet many of those employees seemed to really embody the best of both long-term employees AND constant innovators. Their input turned out to be invaluable however, as they had been around long enough to be able to point out long-standing issues, and yet not have to be responsible for solving them.

Much more – but take a listen to this interview, and you will find out more about how we approached this work, and where you might run into potholes and ripe employee engagement areas.

Comments or Questions?

Wondering how to apply Lean to your project? Can you use similar techniques inside your company, whether in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, or any other industry? (Note: Absolutely!)

Are you wondering how to apply the 7 Wastes of Lean to your business or IT project?

Comment below if you have any questions we can answer publicly, and we’ll answer and discuss together, or contact us at 617-933-9655 to talk about your project and how we can help, from initial assessment through implementation and sustainability of the time, money and resources spent.

Listen now!

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“Dan has a great grasp of business innovation...what it is, what it isn't, and what it takes to drive it. He understands the difference between innovation (process and capability) and innovations (events). His insight comes from his professional experience and from his curiosity, caputured in his blogs and podcast interviews with thinkers on the subject. In other words, he knows how to ask the right questions.”
by Matthew E. May, Owner Aevitas Learning

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