Lean Office

Lean Thinking & Google’s 9 Notions of Innovation

By Jon Miller Published on June 12th, 2006

I’ve written from time to time about the relationship between kaizen, Lean process and innovation in this blog. Innovation is the hot thing at the moment as the United States struggles to cope with what appears to be the increasing irrelevance of its manufacturing sector. Making things is out while thinking of things to make is in, it seems
The creative tends to resist confinement to process. Maverick marketing consultant Seth Godin asks innovators the very good question Why are you afraid of process?
Marissa Mayer is bringing process to innovation at Google. Keeping idea pitches to ten minutes each is one example of rigorous and time-based management. Another is her list of 9 Notions of Innovation.
Gerry Robideau of Gemba asked our team last week “How many Lean concepts can you see in Google’s approach to innovation?” He spotted these 9 Notions of Innovation in the June 19, 2006 issue of BuinessWeek:
Ideas come from everywhere
Google expects everyone to innovate, even the finance team.
Share everything you can
Every idea, every project, every deadline — it’s all accessible to everyone on the intranet.
You’re brilliant, we’re hiring
Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approve hires. They favor intelligence over experience.
A license to pursue dreams
Employees get a “free” day a week. Half of new launches come from this “20% time”.
Innovation, not instant perfection
Google launches early and often in small beta tests, before releasing new features widely.
Don’t politic, use data
Mayer discourages the use of “I like” in meetings, pushing staffers to use metrics.
Creativity loves restraint
Give people a vision, rules about how to get there, and deadlines.
Worry about usage and users, not money
Provide something simple to use and easy to love. The money will follow.
Don’t kill projects — morph them
There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged.
So I post he same question to you. Do you see examples of process thinking, kaizen, or Lean principles in the 9 Notions of Innovation from Google? Do you see the opposite of Lean in any of these? We’ll send a free KaizenBrain (Gemba version) to the first five people who post responses to this question, addressing how each of the 9 Notions is Lean or not. Gemba employees excluded. Void where prohibited.

  1. Anonymous

    June 12, 2006 - 9:41 am

    The leanest one, as far as I am concerned, is “Innovation, not instant perfection”. When I read the IE’s discussing their love affairs with Lean Simulation Software – they want to model every detail of an improvement to assure perfection before granting their approval to the shop floor, it strikes me that they have missed the point of lean manufacturing completely.

  2. Bent Jensen

    June 12, 2006 - 11:37 am

    #1 is lean in the sense it puts focus on using all the ressources in the organisation, as all workers in a lean factory has a important role, and are assumed to take responsibility for the whole.
    #2 Sharing everything is about visibility and information, a key concept in Lean. But was is not very lean is the possible defocused aspect of just sharing everything. If there is too much information, what is then important.
    #3 Not lean. Lean is about creating extraordinary results with ordinary people.
    #4 Not Lean, but good. Creating new innovative products requires free space. Toyota are not creating that many new products. This practice is adopted from 3M
    #5 Lean – small batches thinking
    #6 Definitely Lean: Go to the gemba – look at things as they really are
    #7 Lean – Toyota uses the same approach as described in Michael Kennedys: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise
    #8 Lean: Know what creates value for your customers
    #9 Lean – use elements of value from any project

  3. Mark Graban

    June 12, 2006 - 1:59 pm

    #1 – Lean: “Workers”: don’t expect management to have all of the good ideas. “Management”: don’t expect your workers to be too dumb to have ideas. Respect people and listen to their ideas.
    #2 – Lean: Provide visibility, which helps share information and drives accountability, which seems lean. If you have plan posted on the wall, you are advertising to your co-workers that you will get something done on time.
    #3 – Sort of Lean: you don’t need brilliance to succeed if you have a great process and system, but you need to be careful in your hiring, as Toyota is.
    #4 – Not Lean: you can’t afford this time if you’re part of an interconnected system and team.
    #5 – Lean: continuous improvement. Toyota didn’t get the Minivan, large pickup, or Prius “right” the first time.
    #6 – Lean: be data driven and focus on the customer instead of internal BS
    #7 – Lean: even when expecting workers to drive improvement and to fix problems, leadership still has a role in setting direction. You can’t expect “consensus” to set corporate strategy.
    #8 – Lean: Focus on customers first. Profits will follow. That’s not just Toyota, that’s also part of the J&J “credo.”
    #9 – Sounds not lean: if something is clearly not working, capture your learnings and move on. Sounds like waste to keep going after a bad idea.

  4. Joe Wilson

    June 13, 2006 - 1:32 pm

    #1 – Definitely lean…respecting everyone’s ability to contribute – even the finance team’s
    #2 – Mostly lean…visual management, communication, etc. I guess in a workplace like that, posting something on the intranet is somewhat comparable to a shop floor posting on a factory floor, but I have an aversion to posting things on a network and calling that visual management.
    #3 – I would say lean…Seems to have a good focus on ensuring the people that are selected will fit in and continue the culture. New hire selection is critical.
    #4 – Mostly lean…Assuming that one (or many) of the chosen 20% time days don’t interrupt the flow of development. Their business is built around constant change and improvement to their product and half of their new launches come from these days. Therefore, I’ll make the argument that they are creating better value for the customers on these days despite any flow interruptions that may be caused. That being said, I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head that would look at that number and say, “they have 20% too many people.”
    #5 – Lean…seems like a good example of a PDCA loop.
    #6 – Lean…Again, assuming that the metrics that people use drive lean behaviors. If the data is driven from bad metrics, it doesn’t matter much whether or not you speak with data.
    #7 – Lean…focuses creative efforts on the area where it is most valuable and needed, not just ideas for creativity’s sake.
    #8 – Definitely Lean…Focus on value creation for the customer.
    #9 – If used correctly, could be an example of Lean…In the case of Google, their projects are applications that end up at the other end of our internet connection or on our desktop. If something doesn’t work as well as hoped, one could make the case that this is an example of kaizening a process that did not perform as expected.

  5. Jon Miller

    June 13, 2006 - 7:00 pm

    Thanks for your very good comments on what’s Lean and what is not about the 9 Notions of Innovation at Google.
    We have consensus that “You’re brilliant, we’re hiring” is not Lean. Certainly Toyota is known for “you’re average, our processes are brilliant, we’re hiring” though I’m sure they also hire brilliant people.
    I can’t see how having the founders involved in all hiring decisions is Lean, unless they’ve built up a hiring process that runs without them.
    The one day off per week to think of new things could be Lean. Product development need not be a “priesthood”, limited to a small group of specialists.
    If all of your workers had enough education, training and tools to come up with new product ideas and generate new business, that would certainly be a great way to engage people’s brains and experience more fully.
    Certainly from a process innovation (kaizen) point of view it makes sense to give everyone a certain amount of time to exeriment with new ideas. One thing many companies struggle with is committing to Lean but not committing time for people to actually do kaizen on the job, outside of kaizen events. Perhaps building in 3% to 5% of “kaizen time” or “process innovation time” would be Lean.
    Simply looking at Toyota’s Creative Idea Suggestion System results (which are documented off hours, for which employees are compensated) indicates that there would be a payoff.
    “Don’t kill projects, morph them” could get to be a burden if there was not a rigorous process of deciding what things deserved to become projects in the first place.
    Not giving up and continuously improving on ideas is Lean, doggedly sticking to ideas that aren’t working is not.
    More thoughts? Three more GembaBrains to give away. We’ll save them for another day if everyone likes Mark’s and Bent’s answers.

  6. Graham

    June 14, 2006 - 10:59 am

    #9 Don’t kill projects — morph them
    There’s always a kernel of something good that can be salvaged.
    Not lean – Should be a lesson learned review afterwards to understand what went wrong that you decided you had to kill a project that has passed go.
    The ideas themselves sounds a bit happy-clappy.

  7. Alan Mauer

    June 30, 2006 - 7:36 am

    There is lean if every one of them. This is part of the issue with slogans and mission statements. Words do not transform companies, actions do. The success of words depends on how the person doing the action has interpreted them and is measured by them.
    My Lean interpretation would be:
    Ideas come from everywhere: The culture of the company needs to foster ideas and open communication. An organization structure is like a pyramid and if you rely on the top 10-20% to figure out every detail you will not make any significant improvements.
    Share everything you can: Communication is key if everyone is working towards the same goal (vision).
    You’re brilliant, we’re hiring: A lean company can not just hire someone to do a repetative motion (buy a robot instead). You need to hire people that can do the job but also improve it. It is easier to teach someone a process than to teach them how to think.
    A license to pursue dreams: You can not pack a day full of task after task and expect improvement. People need time to expand on an idea and explore its feasibility. If you expect the innovation to come after hours then you will only see a small fraction of what was possible.
    Innovation, not instant perfection: If you have a culture of continuous improvement you are much better about trying something and then building on it.
    Don’t politic, use data: Personal agendas are what kill good intentions. The vision needs to be there and the supporting data that the changes are to meet that vision.
    Creativity loves restraint: The vision is critical but there needs to be a realistic timeline otherwise the vision is worthless.
    Worry about usage and users, not money: Keep things simple. You don’t need to spend a lot on changes and you don’t need to see instant returns. If the vision is solid the return on investment will be there. Don’t worry about money but be responsible for it.
    Don’t kill projects — morph them: Continuous impromement is all about making things better. If the idea supports the vision but you are not seeing the expected results, modify it. Keep focused there will be lots of set backs.

  8. Viki

    December 2, 2006 - 7:52 pm

    Hi all…I think everyone who has taken the 1 day time out as non-lean activity may be being a bit hasty. Why are we looking at it as a discontinuity? Why not a period of reflection ….after all Hansei is the cornerstone of kaizen and all Google is offering its employees is a time away from the business as usual to reflect, ideate and whats so wrong with that ?
    Can be argued tho whether it should be 20% or 5% but I guess thats a function of the nature of business . Or is it ?

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