Applying Collaborative Innovation in Advanced Manufacturing: an Example of Lean

Achieving authentic transformation across the manufacturing enterprise can seem as challenging as playing a competitive game of Jenga® in woolen mittens. In this article the innovation architect Doug Collins explores the role that collaborative innovation can play in realizing meaningful change. He grounds the exploration with an example from lean.

Closer to Home

In my last column, I offered observations on the results from Frost & Sullivan’s 2015 survey of advanced manufacturers on their perspective on applications for collaborative innovation, or co-creation with customers, suppliers, and associates.

One observation: the group surveyed did not, as a whole, perceive many opportunities to pursue the practice for the benefit of their own discipline, manufacturing. Instead, the application scenarios the group envisioned centered on new product development with key customers. New product development tends to happen upstream from manufacturing.

What of the manufacturers, themselves?

In this article I walk through one scenario—an application of lean—for the manufacturers, themselves, by applying the collaborative innovation blueprint.

The Scenario: In Search of Authentic Transformation through Lean

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a global manufacturer.

You make components for automotive companies. Your plants run 24×7 on three (3) continents. Your firm employs 50,000 people, two thirds (2/3) of whom work in manufacturing: production, assembly, supply chain, and logistics.

Cash flow has been positive. The leadership team has had to work hard to keep pace, however. Time seems the most precious commodity: time to think.

Ten years ago, your firm embraced the practice of lean in a serious, programmatic way. A lean program office was established. A well-respected, senior leader was appointed to lead the initiative. She was a good choice. A natural sensei, she focused on helping people do their jobs better through better problem solving, as opposed to attempting to teach them something through lectures.

Time passes. Lean continues to add value at the plant level. The authentic transformation remains elusive, however. Your observation on this challenge is that, at some point, the possibilities inherent in lean bump up against the reality of organization and geography. Value streams transcend departments and territories.

What might you try, now?

Enter the Practice of Collaborative Innovation

It’s at this point that the practice of collaborative innovation might make sense as an experiment for transformational change.

Let’s start with the collaborative innovation blueprint.

As we know, the first step in the blueprint, which introduces the problem solving model to collaborative innovation, is defining intent (figure 1).

Let’s say that, for this example, the next step in the firm’s journey is helping all the plants get closer to achieving continuous flow by—to start—gaining a better handle on takt time. In some plants, the Yamazumi Board reflects reality; in others, it’s more of a guess. Operator productivity varies, accordingly.

The critical question you might pose across the enterprise might be as follows:

How might we increase the likelihood that our organization as a whole achieves continuous flow in our operations, relative to meeting customer demand for our X series line of products?

A more focused alternative might be as follows, assuming your experiments to date show understanding demand is the problem:

How might we as an organization gain deeper, more precise insight into customer demand in calculating takt time?
Next, we move to forum on the collaborative innovation blueprint (figure 2).

Here, we think about the people we convene on the critical question. Lean’s concept of the value stream serves as a useful tool to consider this question (figure 3).

Authentic transformation comes from (a) posing the compelling critical question and (b) inviting the people who touch the value stream to participate. The latter has a “de-siloing” effect.

Lastly, we consider process (figure 4): what does a day in the life of an idea look like (figure 4)?

The lean practitioner enjoys advantages in applying collaborative innovation to their practice, including in this case having a well-defined, supported method for running experiments that may eliminate problems, or challenges, representing muda.

The linkage between the practices of lean and collaborative innovation can be observed directly on the A3 for the production processes for the X series line of products (figure 5).

That is, the most compelling ideas from the community become the countermeasures the lean program office sponsors.

Closing Thoughts

The lean journey for the advanced manufacturer is the journey of a lifetime. New, harder problems to solve in delivering value to the customer appear each day.

There are always problems to solve.

Authentic transformation, which enables the firm to transcend the more systemic obstacles, begins with helping the organization to see the whole. We cannot improve what we cannot understand.

It’s here—seeing the whole across the enterprise—where the practice of collaborative innovation adds value to the advanced manufacturer, working globally across a distributed chain. Each plant or cell has a view of part of the operation, but not the whole.

Collaborative innovation can help people get in the position to frame the problem in a way that opens the possibility for authentic, systemic change that the more advanced practitioners of lean seek.

The lean program office, in helping the organization achieve authentic transformation at the enterprise level, helps their peers frame the critical questions that speak to the primary value streams the organization supports.

By Doug Collins

About the author

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Fidelity Investments, Johnson & Johnson, Novo Nordisk, and The Procter & Gamble Company navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation.

Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result.

As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL).

Today, Doug consults with a range of clients as senior practice leader at innovation management company Spigit. He helps clients realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.

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