Six Sigma and Innovation – A Remarkable Duo
Everybody in the business world wants their business to grow and be at par with its competitors. Nobody wants to be left behind. This is the reason why companies hire consultants and specialists to aid them on how they can improve specific areas or process of their business. The process of searching and identifying problems and solutions is not made by one man alone. Almost all companies do this using a team of knowledgeable professionals. A team with varied backgrounds most of the time creates conflict. While some believe in this, others disagree. The argument between innovation and Six Sigma is not far from being one of the conflicts.
Innovation in its general sense is simply to create something new or to introduce something different. This could either be to develop a product or to improve a process. But not all means of improving connotes being innovative. Although Six Sigma is clearly defined as the methodology that aims to eliminate defects by identifying probable root causes of the problem, innovation is different. The term is vague and has no specific definition, which may be the reason why people can not exactly differentiate the two. And for some people the idea of integrating Six Sigma in the innovation process will restrain some ideas. If we look at the picture as a whole, the goal is to innovate and Six Sigma is a method that will aid the process of identifying both problem causes and feasible solutions.
To have a better grasp as to how the best practices of innovation can be utilized to optimize a Six Sigma process, let us go with the step-by-step process using the Six Sigma tools. Six Sigma uses several tools depending on what you want to identify and what you want to come up with. Most commonly used tools are:
- Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
- Voice of the Customer (VOC)
- Process Mapping (PM)
- Quality Function Deployment (QFD)
- Failure Mode Effects and Analysis (FMEA)
- Value Engineering Analysis (VEA)
- XY Matrix, TRIZ method (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving)
- PUGH Matrix selection
- Design of Experiment (DOE)
- Robust Design and
- Mistake Proofing
These specific Six Sigma methods can be improved using innovation’s best practices. Every effort to improve is an occasion to apply innovation skills and thinking. Here are a few example practices where we can incorporate Six Sigma (DMAIC) in an innovation process:
DEFINE – this phase involves identification and giving definition to problem root causes. With the use of the process and product analysis technique, one of innovation’s best practices, the fundamentals of CTQs and the XY Matrix can be easily identified and filtered. RCA is also useful to meet the requirements of the factors that are considered and make sure that the correct issues are concentrated on. The House of Quality (HQ) basics can be illustrated to Value Engineering Analysis (VEA) metrics to shorten and minimize stream analysis. Risk mitigation techniques can be easily identified with the help of concept identification.
MEASURE – the phase involves several Six Sigma statistical tools all used to measure current performance and to calculate final goal. Process and product analysis can be utilized to determine the restriction and performance feature of the structure to be measured. There are factors that cannot be easily measured. Identification of narrative strategies can be aided by the discipline of concept generation.
ANALYZE – this phase requires a lot of thinking and brainstorming. This activity identifies the system defects’ root causes. The phase also uses several Six Sigma tools. Analyzing parameter can be done with the use of (CTQ) Critical to Quality and (VEA) Value Engineering Analysis.
IMPROVE – after understanding the main defect, the process of identifying the method on how to eliminate or minimize defects start. Using the system of concept generation, identification of solution plan can be easily accomplished.
CONTROL – monitoring and making sure that the improve plan is strictly followed is under the Control phase. The innovation’s best practice can be put into place to avoid future breakdown and system collapses.
Regardless of the scale of innovation, whether it’s an incremental innovation, an advanced innovation or just a minor improvement, all these are just variety of value in developing solution generation. Innovation despite the pace and the scope is very important to a business which is trying to grow its core proficiency. Incremental innovation brings both long and short term benefits. Better margin contribution, increased revenue and market share, and extended product life are just few of the short term benefits of innovation. But what most organization wants are the long-term benefits. Since most of the techniques of the innovation process is engaged more in to creative thinking and does not require much of statistical analysis, most of the solutions generated provide short term effects. Using statistical analysis and technique of Six Sigma, the creative thinking of innovation can be paired with the thorough analysis of Six Sigma. With constant practice, innovation skills will be developed.
The faultlessness in the areas of innovation and Six Sigma does not guarantee the organization’s viability in the long run. Continuing success in the business involves the customer to be thrilled by unpredicted innovations. Surviving in a highly competitive market requires continuous innovation. Innovation is a product of creative action, not of analysis alone. While Six Sigma is more involved with numbers, wherein all ideas must be a product of meticulous analysis which is based on gathered data, innovation is different. Innovation focuses more on what would please the customer and what is not yet offered by the market. There were also instances wherein excessive concentration to thorough process restricts one from being creative. It is imperative that the team that will create solutions can balance both Six Sigma and innovation.
Not everyone is an advocate of Six Sigma. The well thought-out process and constant benchmarking may seem to be too firm but these are the traits that made Six Sigma successful. Innovation or even free thinking is not suppressed by Six Sigma. The process smoothens the progress. Many think that when you integrate Six Sigma with innovation the process will lose free and creative thinking. Totally incorrect! The one compliments the other with their unique process and characteristic. Innovation is more of a skill-based process while Six Sigma is knowledge-based. Combining skill with knowledge can bring out the best result. Several Six Sigma tools including the Cause and Effect diagram and the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) promote innovative thinking and team brainstorming. An efficient facilitator paired with a varied and creative team makes the ideal setting for new thoughts to materialize when searching for possible root causes or when determining probable solutions. After identifying an inventive solution, Six Sigma can be integrated to make the most of the solution’s effectiveness.
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Alex Orlov is an innovative entrepreneur on a mission to popularize the Six Sigma methodology by answering one simple question – What is Six Sigma? Currently compiling a list of Six Sigma certification authorities across the world – feel free to contribute.