Monday, April 09, 2007

Six Sigma Improves Innovation

Those of you puzzling over how to combine Six Sigma quality initiatives with the creativity of innovation might consider a May 10 webinar by Bob Carter, a senior consultant at Raytheon USA. (Shameless plug) His success at building teams of diverse thinkers by merging the science of engineering with the free-thinking creativity of problem-solving is worth every penny (or Euros or quid).

“Process and methodology is more important than results to many Six Sigma people. But innovation relies on variation – precisely what Six Sigma is supposed to remove,” he says. “One key is to adapt the tools to the problems and not vice versa.” After all, he warns, focusing too closely on sales or other metrics can drive your company to copy others and, potentially, move you farther away from goals or customers.

Bob was a featured speaker at recent Imaginatik Research master session that explored how Six Sigma can strengthen idea management to build a stronger innovation platform. Taking DMAIC process steps and applying them to production, improvement and deployment of ideas can make any organization a hothouse for innovation. Stay tuned for more in the next Imaginatik Research newsletter.


Ben Foster said...

Interesting...I think I'll check this out. As a former GE Six Sigma Black Belt who has moved to a management consultancy that focuses on innovation, I've pressed so hard on building methodologies that unite these two disciplines together.

Too many managers think that "Six Sigma" is synonymous with "Cutting Costs" and "Innovation" is the same thing as "New Product Revenue". They distinctly divide the two, both organizationally and financially, and expect synergy to somehow spring forth from the mess of corporate bureaucracy.

The way Six Sigma works in GE and other big companies, is that managemetn decides to push employees to get "certified". This trickles down through managerial layers until mid-level managers are measured on the metric of "headcount certification", or how many of their employees are certified.

To get certified, you have to show a quality leader that you can fill out a powerpoint template or "Six Sigma Tool" that doesn't always fit the problem. So employees cram innovative processes and ideas into certain Six Sigma tools that don't fit.

By forcing employees to follow this rigid template, the following occurs:
1.) They don't know the Six Sigma tools
2.) They were so stifled by bureaucracy that their innovation was mutilated or abandoned

Here are some basic ideas to do as as Bob suggests, "adapt the tools":

- Use the Six Sigma Project Charter from the "Design" phase to scope your project, and assure proper management involvement

- Use a process map from "Measure" to think out the innovative process you are about to implement

- Use the statistical tests from "Analyze" to come up with concrete data of your risks, and how to manage those effectively

- Use the brainstorming techniques rooted in data from "Improve" to generate ideas that are lower in risk because of their tie to hard data

- Finally, use the process of revisiting an implemented idea in Control to insure that your innovation continues to meet the need of your customers or consumers

sara husk said...

Great tips on combining these two methodologies Ben, thank you!

You've got a great view on what getting certified means, and how it truly plays out. What really needs to happen is that we accept, embrace and encourage intellectual diversity. As humans, our right brain and left brain work so well together (I'm certainly not willing to give either one up!)...why should it be any different in any corporation?...and yet, it is.

You bring up a great point with measuring headcount certified & made me stop and think what should be measured - should a company measure effective problem solving instead?

If we were to measure effective problem solving, we'd then encourage people to use their tool kits - Six Sigma, Innovation, ISO, Project Management Practices, whichever you prefer - as just that, tools for us to manipulate for our (albiet corporate) benefit. That way, individuals could do what they enjoy most - creating, re-engineering, doing, etc. and share that with the organization at large.

The real strategy and growth magic happens when you bring together the people, and provide them the environment in which to share their knowledge and takes a strong leader to be able to bring in the right people at the right time to really work through a tough problem.

As leaders and practitioners, our best course of action is to stay open to differing points of view, and to model acceptance of intellectual diversity every day.

Phil Roberts - Pure Insight said...

It is worth listening to Bob Carter's (Rayheon) Webinar (desk top seminar) on 10th May 15.00 BST. He covers the more human aspects of Six Sigma. To quote Bob
"Strategic Six Sigma embraces the traditional left brain Six Sigma methods, but uses them to address right brain opportunities by bridging the gap between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This accelerates innovation and enables growth".

You can see the details at

Vince Nedeff said...

I would be interested in hearing the perspective of those who have used Lean or a hybrid Lean Six Sigma with innovation and specifically Idea Central. Anybody doing this ????

Anonymous said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more with the fact that many practitioners become enamored using tools rather than focusing on results. The problems should determine the tools rather than the opposite.

Six sigmabr/>

John Asher