Generating impact with lean thinking

Applying engineering lessons to insight

At C Space, we make a point of bringing our clients together for roundtable discussions so they can share their challenges and successes with peers and enjoy a pause from the frenetic day-to-day.

At a recent roundtable, I heard one challenge in particular mentioned repeatedly; it was about refining ways of working to enhance the impact of insight departments. As a production engineer by training, and having worked in the business for a couple of years now, this sparked a thought. I realised there was a considerable connection between this insight challenge and the concept of ‘lean thinking’.

Simply put, lean thinking brings the customer closer to the business, focuses on avoiding mistakes, and overall helps a company keep their processes fluent rather than static.

So I invite you to accompany me through the coming paragraphs and discover which elements of lean thinking can help you create your own positive impact.

 

#1 Reducing Work In Progress

An important aspect of lean thinking is reducing waste. Managing multiple work streams simultaneously, switching topics, refocusing constantly – we all experience this daily. It’s stressful and makes us less productive.

A project can easily lose momentum if the time between the start and the end of a process is too long. We want to keep these lead times short and productivity high. In engineering, this means reducing the work in progress in our system, meaning fewer work streams at once.

But wait, isn’t that counterintuitive? Many assume that the more work you put in to your system the more you get out, which is true to a certain extent. But – and you can go into detail on Little’s Law here – when you struggle to get into a flow and start working inefficiently, that’s often because there are simply too many different things going on at the same time.

Speaking of achieving objectives quickly: have you ever thought about having your team work in sprints? Set clear targets that are achievable within 1 or 2 weeks; small but focused initiatives with a clear, pre-defined outcome. Smaller pieces of work go through your system faster and not only will this create flow, but faster learning too.

Learning: Reduce the work in progress to focus your actions and achieve objectives faster

 

#2 Closing the Loop

Learning is important – the quicker you learn as a company, the better; be it from your teams to understand their insight needs, or from the market to ensure you are developing and delivering your propositions accurately. This is now where feedback loops become important. It is not enough to learn about these aspects in momentary snapshots. Continuous and regular feedback is what allows you to make adjustments every step of the way rather than just stopping at crossroads.

So to land your initiatives quickly and with great precision, you constantly need to reach out to your customers. Furthermore, to translate insights into impact, it is important to get your stakeholders on board. They can provide experience and energy to help you stay focused on what really matters.

Learning: Establish learning cycles. Having teams and customers provide the right feedback at the right time increases speed and precision – not only of your work, but for the proposition development of your company as well.

 

#3 Failing Safely

Creative work has the potential to push companies forward but it also needs room for failure. I’ve seen it various times, and I am sure you’ve either experienced it yourself or observed it in others: the fear of failure that comes with picking up a pencil and stepping closer to the drawing board, especially for those who’ve seldom had the chance to discover their creative potential.

Being agile and able to adjust your path constantly allows for safe failure to happen. Because even if a creative idea proves to be unsuccessful what’s the big deal? No big investments have been made, no opportunities missed, because feedback was available before any harm was done.  In fact the opposite is true; you’ve used the chance to learn a new lesson. The security this provides can encourage initiatives throughout the whole team and can lead to great and innovative work!

Learning: Create space for safe failure by establishing quick feedback loops to unleash that creativity.

 

#4 Thinking in Objectives

Now we’ve discovered that reducing work in progress and closing feedback loops can be fruitful, it is time to focus our attention on the horizon; where do you want to go?

While you are aiming to facilitate successful project work, you should also think about the final product – the finish line of your journey.

It is easy to lose focus, so try to stick to your goals and don’t lose sight of the very final output. By doing so, you can ensure all your sprints are aligned to the company strategy, which makes positive impact much more likely to happen.

Learning: Define your objectives first and reflect on them continuously to stay on track.

From engineering to insight – I believe strongly in the value of building bridges between disciplines. If you’re keen to find out more about lean thinking and discuss ways to sharpen the customer focus of your value chain, get in touch. I would love to close the loop.

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