Six Sigma & Innovation

There has been a lot of criticism about Six Sigma especially in relation to innovation, for example here in Tom Peters On Six Sigma Vs. Innovation.

It seems that many people misunderstand the origins of Six Sigma as a process improvement methodology. Six Sigma grew out of the TQM movement in the late 1980s when we were all focused on making major efficiency improvements in response to tough economic times and on improving quality to compete more effectively.

The Six Sigma methodology has two flavours, each with a slightly different focus. D-M-A-I-C, which is focused on improvement of existing processes, and D-F-S-S (a.k.a D-M-A-D-V), which is focused on developing new processes or repairing broken processes.

Six Sigma was never a methodology directed at innovation, however, it can work well with other innovation methodologies like Triz. Although once people started using Six Sigma at GE attempts were made to use it as the basis of structured approaches to new product development. This was done by adapting DFSS and applying it to product development.

But a key thing that the discipline of Six Sigma can give an organisation is a structured and coordinated approach to process design. Realistically any other structured and coordinated approach can also give similar benefits. Six Sigma enables the development of a common language, a common way of measurement and tracking. These competencies are often fragmented within an organisation.

Certain competencies are necessary for an organisation. If a company cannot undertake its base or core activities in the most efficient way possible, i.e. routinize the boring stuff, how can they free up the resources to do the cool stuff?

That is the benefit that Six Sigma can give, make the routine stuff run really cost effectively and efficiently. Thus freeing up resources to focus on innovation and new product development.

But anyone who is dumb enough to try and use a process improvement methodology to drive innovation deserves whatever badness arises as a result. IMHO two different things – business as usual v. innovation – need (at least) two different approaches.


One thought on “Six Sigma & Innovation

  1. From the commentary at the time of his appointment, the new CEO of NAB Bank, Cameron Clyne, built his successful reputation using best-practice implementation of Six Sigma in his reforms of the New Zealand operation.


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