Is Six Sigma taking all the innovation out of your company?

Six Sigma seems to be on the opposite end of the innovation, but nowadays it’s difficult to tell which is more important. Six Sigma’s main goal is to make processes in a company more efficient and increase performance and productivity, while creating a system that has low tolerance for risk. On the other hand, innovation is asking the team to be brave, take risks and bring new ideas and strategies to the table. At first glance, they seem to be complete opposites, although this may not be entirely the case.

Innovation equals change

Innovation in companies can come in many shapes and sizes, but overall it tends to show up during chaos, long periods of idleness, low levels of stress and in general randomness and freedom. Innovation in theory then would need a space with these characteristics to flourish and allow for creativity to seep through into everyday procedures, activities and products or services. Now, it is important to get grips on what innovation is and isn’t. In the past few years, innovation has become a sales pitch and unfortunately is thrown around in meetings, but is quickly losing meaning. In most companies the effort behind innovation is simply something decorative; in very rare occasions is it part of the core of the company. This will most likely lead to efforts that are not integrated, which will then inevitably fail. So, innovation is a great tool that can definitely bring productivity, rise in sales and brand recognition to your company, if done correctly. At the end of the day innovation is equivalent to change. It requires a constant creation of ideas and the disposition to apply these ideas and change the necessary elements in the company, its procedures and end product.

Lean six sigma_david kiger
Image courtesy of mjtmail (tiggy) at Flickr.com

A closer look at six sigma

Six Sigma, the same as other similar approaches, will in fact have an enormous effect on the efficiency and variance in the organization. Six Sigma identifies and eliminates variance, following a pattern that has worked for companies around the world. It does this so that the company can focus on following the patterns that work and thus generating the expected results, which usually end up being cost reduction and profit gain. This turns the company’s goal into a preoccupation for growth, which is due to the lack of variance, so inevitably the amount of errors is reduced to its minimum expression. This efficiency-driven culture has been around for years and is considered traditional, despite the surges of new waves of doing things.

Can Six Sigma and innovation both survive in a company?

If we take a step back and analyze both approaches, we could argue they are complete opposites. Where one condemns variance, error and hails complete standardization of processes, while the other promotes these very things in an effort to reach creativity and new ideas to improve the organization. So, some say that by applying Six Sigma at your organization, if you’re not careful innovation and growth may disappear completely. This will happen naturally as efficiency goals begin to overtake potential for growth. On the other hand, there is a clear contradiction with the new CEO’s mind frame and the application of such practices that reduce spaces to create and innovate. Most CEOs are leading organization down a path of entrepreneurship and innovation, but at the same time are asked to implement approaches that will assure goal efficiency. So, is this combination possible? I guess only time will tell, because it’s in leaders hands to consider alternative paths and new growth opportunities, without being held back by strategies like Six Sigma.   

Conclusions

There is no perfect answer here. What we can do is look at the takeaways. Six Sigma is specialized in making sure corporations have more efficiency and productivity, whereas entrepreneurship will have more room for innovation. This means that it will depend on your company, your field and your needs which is right for you. In the case that you want both, the important thing to remember is that these efforts should be run separately, so as to not interrupt the other’s process. In some cases, it has even been seen that a company could implement two approaches that will compliment each other and will as a result create a series of processes that induce efficiency which are used to innovate. It may sound strange, but think about it. If you have a process to map out a procedure or determine the viability of a new product, why not apply this process to an innovative brainstorming process that would normally be limitless, whereas here it would have set standards. By applying both strategies you’ll be leading to an incremental innovation process. In this way a company doesn’t have to sacrifice the possibilities to grow through innovation due to the need to reach goals efficiently.

 

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