Lean in Research and Development
Lean has proven to be a reliable resource for companies looking to improve
themselves, particularly in their manufacturing functions. Lean has
helped companies improve productivity, cost, reliability, and protability.
It has also helped companies to improve morale, create steady long-term
prot growth, and facilitate many other useful objectives.
But what of research and development (R&D)? Can Lean help improve
the innovation function of a company? If so, how? By how much? How
long would it take? How would it dier from what we do now in R&D?
How would it dier from what we do now in manufacturing? Where
would we start? How would we progress? Where would we end?
ese are all important questions, and the most strategic answer is that
Lean can partner quite well with R&D, and powerfully so. Twofold, four-
fold, even tenfold improvements and beyond have resulted, in surprisingly
short periods of time, from the development of Lean thinking within the
R&D function. Lean thinking applies to the most basic science and to the
most routine production laboratory in biology and electrical engineering
alike. It applies in the R&D manager’s work and at the scientists bench. It
applies valuably across the entire innovation landscape.
But the Lean path is not a straightforward, linear translation of “Lean
tools” from manufacturing to R&D. Like R&D, or Lean itself for that mat-
ter, the path to Lean R&D is a thinking, learning, experimental endeavor,
and like many good approaches to better thinking, the path to Lean R&D
begins with an understanding of cause and purpose.
16 • Creating a Lean R&D System
e purposes of R&D and manufacturing dier substantially, since they
serve obviously dierent functions within a company. Manufacturing
modies and integrates physical things (raw materials and parts) until it
delivers a coherent, valuable object for others to sell and buy. Successful
manufacturing repeatedly produces the same objects, each of which can
be sold for (more or less) the same amount of money to dierent custom-
ers. Successful manufacturing does all of this work at a total cost that is
less than the sellable value of the product. e purpose of manufacturing,
then, is to convert raw materials into valuable consumable goods that can
be sold at a prot. e currency of value for the manufacturing function is
the object that is produced.
Research and development, in contrast, generally creates and tests new
ideas, building and integrating the results of those tests until R&D can
deliver a coherent, valuable package of knowledge for others to use. at
package might be a new object, the prototype of a product, that can be
manufactured and sold at a prot. at package might be a new process
with which to manufacture an existing product at greater prot. at
package might be a new technology by which others can create or process
their products, or it might be new knowledge needed to enable business
functions (R&D, marketing, regulatory, and so on) to successfully support
their business needs.
e purpose of R&D is innovation, and the currency
of value for innovation is new, applicable knowledge.
ere are many other dierences between manufacturing and R&D,
but the fundamental dierence in their currency of value is most impor-
tant to our thinking about Lean. ese dierences drive the many
other dierences that operationally separate manufacturing from R&D.
Manufactured objects have intrinsic value, which means that identical
objects can be manufactured and sold for about the same price. As a result,
it is the rare manufacturing process that is run only once. In fact, it is cus-
tomary for manufacturers to make as many identical copies of that object
Academic research is only slightly dierent. Value there is measured in publications, grants, pres-
tige, tenure, and, for graduate students, new jobs. Nevertheless, the currency of value in both
academic and industrial R&D is not an object but, rather, is the relative value of the knowledge
that is generated by the thinking and experimental activities of the researchers.

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