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Executives, Not Six Sigma, Kill Innovation

December 5, 2013 15inno 3 Comments

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.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Gardner G. Courson says:

    My first exposure to Six Sigma was as an outside trial counsel working for a Fortune 100 company focused on technology and science. I resisted the invitation to apply any Six Sigma process to my cases, because I was suspicious it was simply a technique to lower legal fees.

    When I became a general counsel of a large corporate division, there was constant pressure on internal and external costs for the law department. The low hanging fruit was the traditional staffing and lack of technology solutions for that law department. With the help of a process-focused Six Sigma Black Belt, we introduced studies and programs that reaped financial rewards very quickly. Very few business organizations cannot improve the process by which they operate. Six Sigma for lawyers may seem counterintuitive, but if you can reduce, realign or speed up the business process used by lawyers, you will see an immediate ROI.

  2. Robert Hawkey says:

    A couple of additional points on Lean Six Sigma. A) Often it is the level of rigor applied, which creates the negative stigma around using LSS. Not everything needs to be 6 sigma; in fact, most processes shouldn't be, as there is a point of diminishing returns. Most processes should be between a 3 and 4 sigma, while only the most critical to customer satisfaction should be 6 – e.g., the difference between an airline getting luggage to the right place versus safely landing the plane. B) Most LSS focuses on DMAIC process to reduce costs and improve functions; there is a second methodology, DMADV, that is specific to innovation in that it begins with customer and business insights and working them through a series of exercises (e.g., critical to quality) to build a successful new product/process.

    This is all about applying the right tools and the right levee of vigor to the right situation.

  3. […] Does the Smartest Guy in the Room Kill Innovation? • Executives, Not Six Sigma, Kill Innovation • No CEO Engagement, No […]

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