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Making it Faster

| On 29, Aug 2007

Cass PursellNot long ago, Nicolas Carr made a provocative assertion in the title of his now-famous article “IT Doesn’t Matter.” In asking whether IT mattered, Carr was being intentionally provocative as a way of getting the reader’s immediate attention. He both abandoned and answered the question in the first paragraph of the original article when he wrote that, “today, no one would dispute that information technology has become the backbone of commerce.” He went on to say that IT is critically important in much the same way electricity is critically important; it is available to everyone in the competitive space, and so it is not strategic, although it does, of course, matter.

The commoditization of IT is an interesting issue in the context of an innovation conversation. John Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco, has said, “Products and services commoditize at such a rapid rate that in the end, the only competitive advantage you have is speed, talent, and brand.” If speed is indeed a critical competitive advantage in this kind of environment, then we have to talk seriously about how to “get fast” when it comes to innovation. In other words, how can we apply Lean principles to our innovation processes?

One critical issue that must be better understood is the cause of long innovation lead times. Solving for the question “how can we get the knowledge we need faster and convert new knowledge into offerings” would seem to be central to developing a strategic advantage around the ability to innovate in a commoditized industry. Lean, of course, focuses on maximizing process velocity by using Little’s Law to reduce process lead time. Little’s Law formalizes the relationship between lead time, the number of things in process, and average completion rate. A logical first step for organizations needing to drive faster innovation cycles, it would seem, would be to apply Little’s Law to the organization’s innovation process. Being able to calculate, track, and trend innovation lead time is the first step to turning speed of innovation into a competitive advantage.