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Innovation at iSixSigma Live! in Miami

Innovation at iSixSigma Live! in Miami

Ellen DombiSixSigma (a corporate “big sister” publication of Real Innovation) hosts the iSixSigma Live! symposium in Miami, FL USA this week, with participation from a wide variety of Six Sigma/Lean practioners and learners. Innovation is definitely the theme of the week–Bob King’s tutorial “Integrating Innovation with the Voice of the Customer” and Phil Samuel’s tutorial “The Next Frontier: Lean Six Sigma Meets Innovation” kick off the week, and my tutorial on TRIZ in Six Sigma, with editorial board member Jack Hipple as a guest speaker, will conclude the week. As with all travel blogs, this report is my personal experiences — for the full conference program, see

Bob King started saying that innovation is the next step in quality in 1994, and he combined his many years experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and the quality consulting business (particularly QFD) into a very interactive, hands-on workshop. He started by challenging the audience to decide if they are from Market-In or Product-Out organizations, and whether that decision governs the measurements that the organizations makes, and whether those measurements govern the decisions on future improvements. Participants practiced identifying all the customers whose input is needed, and developing non-prejudicial questions to aks those customers develop deep understanding of the customers’ needs — everything from banking to healthcare to ship maintenance to private label groceries.

We then proceeded to the innovation aspect of the class–once you know what the customers need, what do you do about it? Bob emphasized that there is a learning curve for innovation, and that building innovation tools into DMAIC helps people come up the curve. The 7 Management and Planning Tools, part of the quality system for many years, are used as innovation tools as well. The class practiced with the Interrelation Digraph, to explore how understanding relationships can help them decide how to focus their creativity.

Bob then introduced the group to brainwriting as a team creativity tool from level 1 in his hierarchy of tools (TRIZ is at levels 1, 4, 5, and 6) Group practice and discussion focused on the need to liberate people from their current way of thinking before using these tools. Bob used some analogies from the study of neural networks for examples of this kind of liberation — one of the most common tricks is to reverse the idea (“how can we increase the cost of pharmaceuticals?”) the pick the most ridiculous of the resulting ideas (“make people sicker”) then use THAT to stimulate new ideas (“provide easy self-diagnosis”). It was a powerful demonstration of how hard it is to break out of old patterns.

Lunchtime notes: Demographically, this is a very interesting conference. Indian pharmaceutical companies, German software companies, Belgian consultancies, Costa Rican electronics companies, US banks, …lots of “Ex-GE” master black belts.

Phil Samuel started the afternoon session by confronting the claims in the press that Six Sigma “smothers” innovation, and challenging the participants to think about their Six Sigma deployments and philosophies – – does focus on the customer mean ignoring possibilities? His historical example (you are a 16th century candle company) was both entertaining and educational. He used it to introduce the technical terminology of jobs to be done, outcome expectations, and the importance for innovation of avoiding specific solutions early in the process.

The four class of problem solving and the relationships between the problem domain and the solution domain were fascinating to the participants. Most companies want to work in class 2(exploitation/exploration) and class 3(exploration/exploitation), most university-type research is class 4 (exploration). The skills of traditional six sigma may need to be expanded and enhanced by divergent thinking skills and intuitive thinking skills to make innovation the kind of business process that can be repeatable and reliable as an element of company’s strategic structure. Vigorous discussion of cultural and brain physiology/chemistry issues followed Phil’s use of examples from global paradigm changes by Tata, GE, etc. The participants shared their own company experiences very freely, and this discussion will probably continue all week. I’ll report as it happens.