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Quality and Innovation Co-Exist

Posted 2010-08-17 Print this article Print

Efficient operations and innovation can go together, and a number of highly profitable companies are using unique approaches to strike a balance between these critical success factors.

Despite recent news reports to the contrary, quality processes are not stifling creativity at major U.S. corporations. In fact, a number of highly profitable companies are using unique approaches to strike a balance between efficiency and innovation, according to a report released by American Society for Quality (ASQ).

The report profiles two major companies, DuPont and Procter & Gamble (P&G). These well-known industry innovators have taken steps to fully integrate the creativity-generating functions of R&D and product development with regular process management structures and practices. 

DuPont uses a variety of Six Sigma methods, as well as Stage-Gate, a carefully designed business development process that encourages both consistency and speed. The company’s goal is to reduce waste in the design, development and commercialization of new products.

There’s no reason why Six Sigma should hamper innovation—if it’s used properly. Management needs to understand that quality process tools aren’t appropriate for all parts of a job and should analyze where these tools can best benefit the bottom line.

P&G maintains that a major driver of its innovation efforts includes a mix of quality processes that provide structure. Two examples are FutureWorks, an organization of multidisciplinary teams that look for innovation opportunities outside the existing business units, and Corporate Innovation Fund, which focuses its efforts on high-risk, high-reward ideas.

“More than any other factor, systems are the way we avoid dependence on ‘Eureka!’ approaches to innovation,” says Robert McDonald, P&G CEO. “We select innovation projects, allocate resources and ultimately bring the best innovations to market with highly disciplined processes and systems.”

Here are some tips for enterprises striving to balance quality processes and innovation:

•    Keep everything in perspective. Quality is broader than Six Sigma, and innovation is broader than breakthrough inventions. 
•    Innovation occurs in social
systems. Treat it like a team sport involving real-life interactions of multitudes of people.
•    Go outside the boundaries of your organization. Collaborate with customers, suppliers, business partners and academia for innovation insights.
•    Think of innovation as a process. Don’t think of it as a series of unrelated eureka moments. Instead,  consider innovation as a change process that can be managed with familiar change management and quality management methods.
•    Establish a widespread culture of innovation in your organization. Also, build innovation-enhancing capabilities throughout a customer-
centered value stream.
•    Challenge the common assumption that innovation is inversely related to structure. Common knowledge will give you only common results that are no different from what everyone else is doing. 
•    Encourage different ways of thinking. Promote divergent think-
ing during ideation and convergent thinking during development.

One of the tools useful for innovation by Six Sigma teams is TILMAG, which is an acronym for German words that loosely translate to “the transformation of ideal solution elements in an association matrix.”

Another tool for innovation is the morphological box, which is used to solve multidimensional, nonquantifiable problems. Both tools enable users to look at other systems or environments to find new ideas that might apply to them.

A number of tools and techniques allow teams to look at problems in fresh ways to enable them to find new solutions to problems. These techniques often allow teams to leverage solutions found in very different systems. While some people are more creative than others, anyone can learn to use these tools to be more innovative. 

To view the complete report “Fresh Thinking on Innovation and Quality,” click here.

Elizabeth (Liz) Keim is a managing partner at Integrated Quality Resources in Boulder, Colo. She works with clients on business results improvement through the integration of methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, the Baldrige Award criteria and the ISO 9000 quality systems standards. Keim is a past president and past chair of the board of the American Society for Quality.

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