In the late 1980’s, I remember a lecturer on my Engineering course at Imperial College, UK telling me about an exciting new production technique that was being pioneered at Toyota and that it would make a massive difference to manufacturing. We heard how all employees understood standard deviation (which is where the name of Six Sigma comes from) and were able to apply their knowledge to a methodology that was to become known as Lean Manufacturing.
I went on to apply basic Engineering principles to running both the companies I founded – that is, set goals, eliminate waste, measure and learn, review operations and improve, make employees responsible, etc. I thought nothing of it – obviously everyone ran companies like this? Amazingly no!
Since I sold my companies, I have continued mentoring and coaching innovators (individuals and corporate) about the need to concentrate on the customer and paying the wage bill. Recently my thinking has been further consolidated by reading some books of high profile companies including Google and Walmart.
What I have found is that very few people understand that they are wasting a lot of their effort on things that will not make them successful. There are many reasons that this can happen. Here are just a few common ones:
1. Don’t know. Many innovators, start-ups and corporate simply don’t know what they need to do. There is a lot of free advice available; however, much of it is skewed in the providers’ favour. Don’t get me wrong, there is good advice but it is very difficult to find.
2. Area of Competence. Some simply find the whole issue of speaking to customers and raising money too difficult and too unknown. Finding it hard, they simply revert back to what they are good at and make little or no progress towards creating a viable company.
3. Assumptions. I have been surprised by the number of people I meet who simply assume that if they make the “best thing”, customers (and therefore money) will simply arrive in their bank account. If it doesn’t happen, then clearly, they just need to hire a salesman and everyone will flock to the door. Or perhaps not!
4. Someone else’s problem. And yet, others simply feel that converting an idea into a successful product is simply a problem for someone else. They can’t say who or know who it is, it is simply someone else’s job to make it all happen. After all, they’ve done the most difficult part: having the idea.
It makes me sad to observe all the wasted activity (both in the UK and Australia) of people who are chasing indeterminate dreams of their idea when it could easily be tested. If only the innovator or enterprise would test the idea, they would know whether it is worth spending time on. If the innovation is not worth taking further, simply drop the idea and start working on the next one (which could be a modification of the original idea) having learnt why the idea did not work.
Guess what? It is probably idea two, three or four that will really work. That’s the idea that customers will flock to and will pay for so that wages can be paid at the end of each month.
What is Lean Commercialisation
This frustration led to the genesis of the concept of “Lean Commercialisation.” It is a process to help inventors, start-ups and corporate test their ideas and innovations quickly and simply see if they are worth spending more precious resource on. The methodology concentrates practitioners on spending their time on the tasks required to prove their innovation as quickly as possible. The aim is to obtain hard evidence to demonstrate the innovation will be a success or kill it so participants can move onto the next concept without loss of face, emotional energy or money.
Finally you may be asking: “Why the picture of the cyclists working out the best route?” There are two reasons:
- I wanted to highlight that if you don’t know where you are going or how you’re going to get there you need a map or process to help you. That’s Lean Commercialisation.
- I just completed the Sydney to Woollongong cycle ride of 85km this weekend. It was similar to the process of innovating an idea: times of hard up-hill work, delightful rest periods in dappled sun, and spectacular views of the route to the final goal.