Management Innovation

/ˈmæn.ədʒ.mənt ˌɪn.əˈveɪ.ʃən/

When management subscribes to a new way of thinking and (radically) alters its own decision-making, organizational structures and processes to pave the way for wider organizational change.

Management innovation is a type of innovation which we deem to be one of the most important strands but which receives less attention than product-service, business-model and regular process innovation. However, it is the basic prerequisite in order for all the other types of innovation to work. At the end of the day, if an organization’s operating system still runs like it did in the 70s you can hardly outcompete your new digital disruptors, can you?

Birkinshaw and Mol define ‘management innovation’ as “the invention and implementation of a management practice, process, structure, or technique that is new to the state of the art and is intended to further organizational goals” . In that sense, agile approaches like Design Thinking, Lean Startup, or Scrum and their respective method pools are the basis for management innovation. In order for them to function and not become ‘agile-fall’ or ‘fake agile’, new leadership practices, governance structures, and eventually also organisational design changes are required. If they are implemented sustainably – e.g. by establishing a lean innovation (eco)system, or by practicing Lean UX – this may result in management innovation.

The notion is also closely linked to Management Ideas or Concepts , which are “fairly stable bodies of knowledge about what managers ought to do’ and consist of ‘a system of assumptions, accepted principles and rules of procedure” (Kramer and Kramer, 1975, p. 47). In an extreme form the former might also come as a Management Fashion or Fad, a “[t]ransitory collective beliefs that certain management techniques are at the forefront of management progress”  . Many very useful innovation approaches of their times (hello Six Sigma!, hello design thinking!, hello Lean Startup!) run the danger of simply becoming a management ‘flavour of the month’. This rarely is the fault of the approach itself. The problem lies more with their opportunistic exploitation and misappropriation by people who look for quick wins and superficial shortcuts to either the hard (change) work in front of them or by applying the approaches mechanistically in contexts where they do not fit (see Methodology-Misfit).


Birkinshaw, J., & Mol, M. (2006). How management innovation happen. MIT Sloan Management Review, 47.
Abrahamson, E. (1996). Management Fashion. Academy of Management Review, 21(1), 254–285. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.1996.9602161572
Lozeau, D., Langley, A., & Denis, J.-L. (2002). The Corruption of Managerial Techniques by Organizations. Human Relations, 55(5), 537–564. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726702055005427
Ingo Rauth. (2015). Understanding Management Ideas: The Development of Interpretability [Chalmers University of Technology]. https://research.chalmers.se/en/publication/225528
Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. (2016). Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams (2nd edition). O’Reilly UK Ltd.