Quality Magazine

Readers Respond: Can Six Sigma Be Adapted to Look at Innovation?

August 18, 2011
Quality Magazine LinkedIn group members discuss how innovation fits into the Six Sigma equation.

Can Six Sigma be tailored to incorporate innovation?

“Much has been written about how a formal Six Sigma approach and a formal approach to innovation cannot co-exist--but is that really true?” asks Innovation Excellence writer Braden Kelly. Kelly goes on to stipulate that Six Sigma is often considered a management activity, while innovation is usually associated with discovery. Now in its 25th year, Six Sigma “began as a methodology focused on improving quality, but over time organizations have adopted and adapted the methodology to encompass activities focused on continuous improvement and on cutting costs,” Kelly notes. In a recent open forum within Quality Magazine’s LinkedIn group members discussed how innovation fits into the equation.



Jarkko Ruottinen, quality engineer at Selmic Oy: “I might be too straightforward with innovation, but what is the definition of innovation?

New idea = Define.

After fitting enough idea make beta, proto, description what to test = Measure.

Result of something concrete = Analyze.

Tune Idea = Improve.

Make/tune instructions and documentation from all earlier steps = Control.



When you make innovation, you find something deviating to you ongoing process or object. You need to compare it to something, otherwise it won't proceed further. Now you have something mathematical and also some base to see weaknesses and highlight.

Maybe the innovation process is not clearly defined.”


Ramaswamy Rajagopalan, senior deputy general manager at Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. : “Innovation is basic to the Six Sigma approach. In a big organization, the requirement of internal customer input is essential to the next process in process mapping to achieve the end result with in Six Sigma limits. In this journey, the innovation is the tool for growth and ultimately meets the customer requirement. The combination of innovation and Six Sigma is way to make success complimentary.

Innovation is the outcome of human thought. We have machine and process in place. We approach Six Sigma with necessary and adequate input for acceptable end results of the process to meet the customer requirement with defects as per Six Sigma.”



Clint Steele, senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology: “I think that this article has just taken some established processes for the management of innovation and relabeled those steps with those of DMAIC.

That's not to say that the article is not of use. I think it is good to look at things from different perspectives. And looking at innovation through the lens of DMAIC does just that.

It might even help people in quality-and who may have become lacking in risk taking ability, which is ideal for innovation-gain a better appreciation of what innovation can be. The only thing that would have been good to see the author go over is some of the specific tools that you would (and maybe those you wouldn't) use in each step. That might really help provide a Six Sigma view of innovation.”



Marius Pretorius, quality and change manager at ZF Lemforder Australia : “Six Sigma is in fact innovation. Innovation in the context of business improvement, which is exactly the intention of TQm and lately, Six Sigma, Lean etc.”




Jeff Forsyth, manager of quality assurance at Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. : “I think in this application, the Design For Six Sigma is the tool of choice, DFSS (DMADOV) or some version of it, specifically addresses Product Design, or Process Design, Optimization of products, and Validation of design concepts and innovations. Of course, nothing can take the place of genius ideas, but many of these ideas can come from a conceptive effort to specifically address new product innovations. We should never forget that new innovations are made at the footstool of many failures. Without the failures we don't have all the answers.”



James Forry, quality manager at Engineered Products Co.: “In Braden Kelley's article, he says, ‘Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative-and widely adopted.’ With that being his basis for what innovation is, does the Dyson vacuum cleaner meet that criteria/definition? I have not heard that Dyson uses Six Sigma, but it is more promoted as a guy's idea that came to fruition as a result of a frustration that other vacuum cleaners became less/ineffective when getting 'full'. Maybe using some of the tools like an IS/IS NOT, etc. to define what needs improved can be an alternative. Six Sigma needs data to take it anywhere or show that it has been improved. Maybe it is more like a paradigm shift (widely adopted comment in his article)?

Interesting article. I think Six Sigma can be adapted for many things and can be a great tool for innovative improvement.”



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