Lean Innovation case studies

Client: a-n Artist Information Company

Name: Mark Adamson / Justin Souter

Duration: 6 months


a-n are a long-standing and well-regarded digital publishing/membership company with over 20,000 members and subscribers nationally. Founded in 1980, they have successfully operated in their specialist field developing a strong and trusted brand. a-n is a distributed organization with offices in Newcastle and London and staff based remotely around the UK and in Europe.

a-n required external expertise and capacity to strategically analyze their operational culture and suite of products and services with a specific brief to identify and develop new income opportunities and exploitation of own-IP assets to grow the company, using Lean Start-Up/Innovation tools and techniques.

Work delivered:

a-n’s core proposition is based on providing a range of services focusing on the professional environment for the visual arts, bringing together artists, art students, producers, arts professionals, researchers, arts organisations and universities. They enjoy active membership engagement and, as part of their strategy, have partnered with third parties to support their members on the provision of services – this includes, by way of example, the development and roll-out of a specialist insurance product for artists.

a-n have a well-developed web platform and wished to explore the viability and opportunity to fast-test potential new products and services, recognizing the need to innovate to a) remain competitive in a fast-changing market and b) provide ongoing relevance and value to their customers. They also, however, recognized the need to manage new product development in a manner that fitted the make-up and culture of the team, and also limited risk given limited assets and resources (time, money, people) requiring robust routes to test and evaluate ideas and prioritize resources accordingly.

Core elements of the work therefore included:

  • Examination of a-n’s own business model, using the Value Proposition Canvas and Empathy Map to help generate a shared understanding of a-n’s customer segments.
  • Introduction to and development of a current and future Business Model Canvas for the organization with all team members contributing input and analysis.
  • Specific ‘learning to do’ topics included: Business Models, patterns, iterating; Measurement / Actionable metrics; Lean UX / product management; Customer development, customer interviews; and, Core Lean Startup concepts such as Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).
  • Flexible and accessible approach to learning, development and deployment for staff using materials including videos, free online training courses, participatory exercises, books, articles / blog posts; and, feedback session to complement the training activities and give a-n team members a chance to reflect together on emerging insights.
  • Identification of potential new products and services, routes to test and introduce, identification of key partners and resources. Presentation to a-n Board for adoption and implementation.


  • New innovation culture supported by flexible tools and processes embedded in organization.
  • New methods to engage, test and evaluate customers.
  • Introduction to and engagement with new partners.
  • Identification of potential new/future products and services.

Client: Durham County Council

Name: Justin Souter

Duration: 9 months


I delivered a series of workshops based on the Lean Startup framework to help members of the Durham County Council ICT department become more innovative and ‘intrapreneurial’ – to translate into greater commercial awareness and thinking.

One of the workshop participants commissioned him to run another pair of workshops for the Council’s Regeneration and Economic Development department.

Participants go away with a changed mindset and a feeling that they can convert their ideas more readily into products and services which will gain traction.

Business ideas that participants have developed include clothing, mobile apps, consumer goods, foodstuffs, tech infrastructure, dog walking, and childcare materials.

What challenges were you presented with?

The Client didn’t appear to have the process, tools, vocabulary and cultural dynamic to translate customer insights into new services for Public Sector Clients who increasingly can buy Software-as-a-Service tools or change providers to a private sector outsourcer.

Phil Jackman, Head of ICT at Durham County Council stated

“About a third of our business is traded with other LAs and public bodies and it is becoming a more important part of our offering.

We need to think more commercially and be more creative in products and services design.

Our market is changing. We need to innovate more rapidly. How can we use what we are learning to change the way that we approach our business?

We all need to realise that we are the organisational context.”

The goal of the RED team was for the workshops to assist them in being more open to citizen conversations and feedback, and being more accurate in specifying fit-for-purpose solutions for new projects.

Challenges which emerged included the existing culture, behavioural norms, organisation structures, and sceptical participants who had been trained in “this is how we do things around here”!

Also, conveying innovation concepts using the vocabulary of Lean Startup and ‘intrapreneurship’ to create buy-in into a different way of thinking and working.

Fully describe the solutions implemented and the breadth of skills used

These workshops employ open source tools around product management and business modelling, and a recently created printed checklist assists students conducting ‘customer development’ so they are guided to ask open questions about customer problems, and also to test pricing.

The workshops are delivered using a mix of multimedia, including slides, videos, wallcharts / post-it notes, team exercises, real-life engagement with potential customers, and whole class engagement.

In using ‘visual business design’ tools, participants and Clients are offered a straightforward innovation toolset and process for bringing new products and services to market

Skills used

  • Innovation – using wallcharts and Post-Its to turn concepts into more pragmatic reality through (potential) customer feedback and input.
  • Business context – understanding societal, political, competitive, and budgetary pressures
  • Organisational design – bring a business sense to how workshop concepts can be translated into improved organisational performance
  • Interpersonal – openness, empathy, warmth, and encouragement in an uncertain
  • Delivery – workshop design and delivery, timekeeping, team building, question and answer sessions
  • Domain expertise – translating the vocabulary and mindset of established business thinking into a more entrepreneurial and innovation outlook of experimentation.

Explain the impact/outcome of the intervention for the client,

These initial workshops have created initial awareness and the skills learned are being applied by Project Managers.

We will shortly be conducting an exploratory workshop which could co-create an organisational improvement and change programme to embed the approach into ‘Business-as-Usual’ with a dedicated situation room and the metrics and oversight to deliver greater business value.

Lessons Learned

  • The Lean Startup framework resonates with participants – one asked “why can’t we use this all the time?”
  • Future work could include the ‘Culture Map’ which aims to diagnose the As-Is organisational culture, and then provide a means to plan to the desired To-Be state.