I just went through a couple of good reads on the conflicts between six sigma and the innovation efforts at 3M, which is widely respected as one of the most innovative companies in the world.
In one article, Six Sigma “Killed” Innovation at 3M, we got some good insights from Geoff Nicholsen, who is one of the guys who helped build the innovation culture at 3M.
Some of his remarks:
“The Six Sigma process killed innovation at 3M,” said Nicholson. “Initially what would happen in 3M with Six Sigma people, they would say they need a five-year business plan for [a new idea]. Come on, we don’t know yet because we don’t know how it works, we don’t know how many customers [will take it up], we haven’t taken it out to the customer yet.”
However, the 3M ambassador pointed out he had nothing against the Six Sigma, but felt it was not ideal for the creative process. ”I met the guy who in fact put Six Sigma together and I said to him, ‘What about innovation? Because at 3M right now we are having problems–we’re being asked about Six Sigma and trying to utilize it in the creative stage’. He said it was never designed for that, it was designed for manufacturing when starting to scale up a product,” said Nicholson.”
As I did some more research on six sigma, innovation and 3M, I found this interesting response to the above article; Did Six Sigma Really Kill Innovation at 3M?
Here, Jeff Gotro shares some good observations including this one:
“But guess what? Sensational headlines grab readers attention, but what really “killed” innovation (even that’s debatable, 3M seems to be doing pretty well these days) was the inappropriate application of Six Sigma by management.
Six Sigma is a process and toolset that when applied properly can result in significant improvements and cost savings. The key here is that Six Sigma is not a one-size-fits-all approach and from the 3M press, it appears that it was not deployed properly in the R&D setting.”
Both articles have some good points worth re-visiting once in a while. Make sure your company – and your executives – do this.