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Innovation/six Sigma

| On 01, Jan 2010

Message: 301
Posted by: Kelly
Posted on: Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Business Week has a new article about the “debate” between innovation and six sigma:

Says that you have to use the non-risk six sigma method along with the risk-inherent innovation strategies together in order to really be successful. Seems to agree with what we've already been talking about on this site.

Message: 302
Posted by: Trev
Posted on: Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Why do people always have to say “innovation versus six sigma,” as if you can only have one or the other. It bothers me that this author would even suggest it (as the title) as it makes me question her expertise in the subject matter from the start. Obviously, she's never done six sigma herself or she wouldn't be posing the question.

Message: 303
Posted by: Kelly
Posted on: Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Trev: Well… It is possible that the author didn't write the headline. But whoever did write the headline definitely missed the point that there is much opportunity to take advantage of both tools rather than considering them in battle.



Message: 304
Posted by: Mike Carnell
Posted on: Thursday, 1st March 2007


Controversy sells is why they post titles like that. A friend calls it the “Jerry Springer factor.”

“Steve. Steve. Steve”

If you look at the mid to late 90's there was, and still is to some of the intellectual bigots, a controversy between Lean and Six Sigma. Barbara Wheat, Chuck Mills and I wrote Leaning into Six Sigma around 2001 because we got tired of hearing from people they had to make a choice and wanted them to understand they did not have to choose. Now the hot market is books on the integration as if they have found something new. It was never treated and separate and distinct at Motorola in the 80's just part of Continuous Improvement. The Innovation market is similar at this point except we have people running around talking innovation, invention, creativity, etc and nobody understands what the other person is actually talking about. People aren't always getting what they are asking for and the people delivering are trying to figure out that they are supposed to do. Lots of frustration.

Understand that it is much easier to write/fabricate this controversy than it is to write something with real substance in a short enough format for a magazine or newspaper about innovation. Either will draw attention in todays market but the choice is write something vanilla about innovation or try to generate the emotion of a pay per view wrestling event by squaring innovation and SS off against each other. No particular real interest in either so you go the Vince McMahon route. The more we write about it and link to it the faster it moves up in the search engine. Where is the down side for these guys to drive the controversy?

The fact is attaching SS to something gets attention. So you pair things off against it so people pay attention to what is written. These people have no particular skin in the game beyond selling their magazine or their paper so printing things with any level of integrity is a low priority.

Just my opinion.

Message: 362
Posted by: Terry
Posted on: Sunday, 18th March 2007

Hi all,

Those that read the Business Week article carefully will have discovered (despite the provocative title) the author did not promote the notion that the business choice was SS or Innovation.  Indeed, a key point presented was the work of researchers who believe the two can–must–coexist within an organization, but at the same time must be separated.  Reference was made to the writing of O'Reilly and Tushman:

“Their conclusion is that smart companies separate the more ambitious efforts at innovation from ongoing efforts at continuous improvement, allowing for different processes, structure, and cultures to emerge within the same company.”

This point of view is an extension of work I became exposed to in 2000, by Sherman D. Roberts at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University.  Roberts contrasted the processes of “maximizing” and “innovating.”

By maximizing, Roberts meant any process to boost performance by reducing variation that worked to minimize it.  We would easily use “continuous improvement” and “six sigma” as process synonyms.  In contrast, “innovating” means a process of increasing variations, followed by choosing the best among them for further development.

For me, the eye-opening conclusion of Roberts was that these two processes require fundamentally conflicting behaviors.  The implication was that–while most organizations should do both–the activities should be led by separate groups, to avoid the behavior conflicts that occur when any person or team attempts both simultaneously.  To me, the work of O'Reilly and Tushman, and the Business Week article, reiterates this point of view.

Since my exposure to it, I have been fond of Roberts' teaching, because it validated my long-standing empirical experience that these two activities never worked well in organizations I managed, until I split the responsibilities among two independent departments.  At the time, it was my own gut that drove my decision.  One could understand my affinity for the theory that seemed to endorse it.

Ever since, the challenge of how to achieve this separation in small organizations (which typically cannot employ separate staffs in separate locations, one to pursue SS/CI and the other Innovation) has been of great interest.


Message: 372
Posted by: Mike Carnell
Posted on: Tuesday, 20th March 2007


First the first two paragraphs are fundimentally flawed.”One minute the management team is telling us to innovate, and the next minute they are giving us our marching orders in deploying Six Sigma. It's crazy to tell people they should be focused on becoming more efficient while at the same time you want them to explore untapped growth potential. This is making me nuts.” This statement makes no sense. One of basic tools in Six Sigma, DOE, is an efficent way to screen variables. It has been done for years. Why wouldn't someone want an efficent innovation process. I believe you will find on this website something that says we are looking for systematic innovation.

Second “An outgrowth of the quality movement, Six Sigma was first applied in manufacturing….” It came from a manufacturing company which is much different than it coming from manufacturing. The directive was “Six Sigma in everything we do.” As much as people struggle with this concept Motorola had HR, Accounting, marketing, sales,finance etc just like any other company. At some point this becomes irritating since we are 20 years after its inception and this comment is still around.

The worst travesty by this article is characterizing a Belt as someone with a low tolerance for risk. We have data across countries and continents that a risk averse Belt will be an unsuccessful belt. Lets make sure we understand that SS is meant to be a Brekthrough Methodology used in the context of Juran's Managerial Breakthrough where he defines it as “Dynamic Change.” How in the world can anyone differentiate between some one given the task of driving dynamic change or breakthrough and someone who must innovate? You do not get breakthrough without some degree of innovation otherwise you will get the same crap you alway had. Motorola we were on a 10 fold improvement every 2 years as a rate of improvement. That is about a 68% reduction in defects per year. I would really appreciate smeone showing me the person who can do that and be risk averse. Every successful Six Sigma project requires some level of innovation.

Her very next article says innovation equals change. Nobody does SS so everything stays the same. The fact that she characterizes SS as “small, incremental innovations that add up.” Means she has no clue what SS is meant to be. 

The output of a SS project is standarized disciplined processes. That does not mean the DMAIC process is this standardized disciplined process. The DMAIC process can be taught that way if you want little CI robots. In general that is delivered by people who never intuitively understand the process.

Just my opinion

Message: 374
Posted by: Terry
Posted on: Tuesday, 20th March 2007


I agree with your point of view regarding SS.  Certified as a Green Belt and trained (though not certified) as a Black Belt, I am a proponent of SS philosophy and methodology.  Any argument that SS excludes change would be impossible to support.  Any point of view that segregated creative thinking from SS would be folly.

The chief value I pulled from the BW piece was the notion that there are processes that are driven by an objective to reduce variation (and SS is notable among them) . . . and processes that thrive on (at least initially) increasing variation (wild ideas, “out of the box thinking” and a variety of other phrases come to mind).

It would not be my argument that one is better than the other, nor more desirable.  I could not even support a case that “innovation” cannot be part of SS (and this takes us back to the difficulty in defining just what “innovation” is).

It is my point of view that there is a behaviorial conflict at work when trying to pursue both simultaneously–not as an organization, but as an individual or small team.


Message: 375
Posted by: Mike Carnell
Posted on: Wednesday, 21st March 2007


Let me qualify myself on this issue. I have never had responsibility for a team tasked with innovation so for me to speak with what I would consider a lot of experience on the innovation side can't happen.

What I have seen twice was where the innovation type function has been pushed to get back involved in operations. We saw the guys from the Sci Lab at Ford pushed to get more operational in the late 80's. They contributed tremendously to the issues we were having with a MAP sensor. I am not sure the impact we had on them.

During the GE deployment in 96 I worked primarily with two groups Aircraft Engines and Power Generation. Power Gen was in Schenectady, New York as was the R&D center. Again those people delivered real value on a lot of programs. Again I have no idea what they took back from us.

We still have the issue with SS being driven to reduce variation. That is a twist that I believe has come about to placate the TQM'ers. It fits with the way they have been taught to think for years. A SS project mayin fact address variation because as you examine the x's you understand their effect. Leaving a process located at its current location and reducing variation is infact what Juran defines as Control which is a lack of change or maintaiuning status quo. SS has been defined as a breakthrough strategy which is dynamic change. Before being emasculated it was more of the Taguchi idea of driving to the optimal point to operate.

If as BG you were taught to reduce variation I can understand why this may not make any sense. Pick up a copy of Juran's Mangerial Breakthrough. You just need to read the first few chapters to understand the difference. Even if you read Womack's Lean Thinking you will see where TPS has two strategies Kaizen – incremental improvement and Kaikaku – breakthrough. Again reporters go ask Toyota people do you do SS? Of course the answer is no. Do they have the same function, breakthrough? Yes. TPS recognizes the difference as well.

Check out a Bog by Gary Cone on the iSixSigma Blog site where he discusses the attributes of BB's. You will see the data he presents on the drives of a BB. Since then we have additional data from Africa and Australia.

A successful BB is rarely risk averse.

Just my opinion.


Message: 379
Posted by: Mike Carnell
Posted on: Wednesday, 21st March 2007


I just read an interesting article that may be of interest to you. It has potential to change/explain some of my thinking on this. It is from MITSloan Management Review, titled “How Management Innovation Happens” by Julian Birkinshaw and Michael Mol.

They include Six Sigma as Management Innovation. This may be where we differ on our perception of Six Sigma. My total experience with SS is delivering deployments so it is the transformation or a part of the transformation. The predominate discussion of SS today tends to be more frequently at the project level. Maybe a consequence of the growth in the certification of individuals rather than certification as a part of a deployment. I could see where the certification at the individual level may make it easier to mask poor results but as a part of a deployment there isn't any place to hide.

If you get a chance to read this please let me know your thoughts. if you want to discuss this off line my email is