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The Competitive Excellence Imperative

By Michael S. Slocum

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
– Sun Tzu

A great idea is never enough. Excellent execution is not enough. In today’s complex business environment, a union of expertise must be coordinated in order to assure anything close to victory. A bad idea can be implemented ideally and a great idea can be implemented poorly. Neither will help you win the race to long term survivability. You also can have a great idea that is implemented ideally and still miss the needs of the business. You need the right need identified, you need the right idea that will meet the need, you need the right execution, and on top of all of that – the timing needs to be right. From this perspective, no single method is enough. Not yet anyway. Competitive Excellence changes the landscape by presenting a holistic approach for business success that can do all that is asked of it.

Concept-to-Commercialization: The Domains
“Do not repeat the tactics that have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”
– Sun Tzu

A business must perform across many domains in order to move from concept to commercialization. The initiating event is the identification of a societal need (SN). A societal need is an unmet desire/need that exists in society. It is the prime mover for the development of an idea (product or service related). Identification of an unmet societal need is the critical step in the commercialization of anything. Society wanted to change the television channel without leaving its seat – the remote control was a response to that need. Society did not want to die from smallpox – the smallpox vaccination was the response. In order for a business to develop a product or service to meet an identified unmet societal need, the need must be converted to a set of customer requirements (CRs). This begins to move the business in the direction of an actionable set of criterion.

The customer requirements describe the attributes the product or service must possess in order to meet the societal need. The correlation between the SN and the relevant set of CRs describes the quality of the solution. When a product or service is released to the consumer and the CRs are not met, competition is invited into the space. The competition’s leverage is proportional to the number of unmet (or partially met) CRs. The set of CRs must be converted into a corresponding set of functional requirements (FRs). The identified functions identify a language that the product/service developers use to create a concept. The functions are those necessary to meet the CRs that in turn deliver the SN (SN»CRs»FRs). This breakdown changes the strategic need into a set of necessary functions that the system must provide in order to be a viable response to an unmet SN. The FRs are actionable as they are the drivers for concept generation.1 The identified concept(s) must provide the functions, that then meet the CRs, which satisfy the SN (SN»CRs»FRs»Concept).

While concept generation is not its own domain, it is the critical transition point from need to response. Once a concept has been generated, design parameters (DPs) must be identified that will deliver the functionality inherent in the concept. The DPs are the language necessary for the reduction of a concept to practice. The DPs must correspond to the FRs and this correspondence strength determines, in part, launch success (SN»CRs»FRs»Concept»DPs). The DPs identify the architecture a product or service must represent in order to provide the necessary functions. These functions meet the CRs, which satisfy the societal need. The DPs must be converted into the language of production in order to be manufactured and/or assembled. This is called the process variable domain (PV). The same correspondence should be preserved: SN»CRs»FRs»Concept»DPs»PVs.

Excerpted from INsourcing Innovation, Dr. Michael Slocum, Mr. Neil DeCarlo and Mr. David Silverstein, Breakthrough Performance Press, 2005.

Although there is much that takes place in the commercialization process, these five domains categorize the centers of activity appropriately. A business needs competency across these domains. But just being able to execute a good idea efficiently is no guarantee of continued success. The business needs to identify the ideal state it seeks to attain. It must also assess what its current state is and identify the gap between the two. The business must identify the appropriate path of action to bridge this gap. These larger strategic issues form the backdrop upon which concept commercialization is played. There is also a larger need for an infrastructure able to support multiple methodologies. All of this works together to create a complex need state for an organization. Also, the strategic alignment will provide a polarizing force that will allow the entire organizational resource pool to pull the organization towards the ideal state. Without a polarizing force, the organization is in a state of Corporate Brownian Motion (CPM).2 An organization must at a minimum be able to:

1.Assess its current state.
2.Identify its desired state.
3.Identify a strategic plan to bridge the gap (desired-current).
4.Perform to plan and correct as required.
5.Identify unmet societal needs (SNs).
6.Convert a SN to a set of CRs.
7.Convert a set of CRs into a set of FRs.
8.Convert a set of FRS into a set of DPs.
9.Convert a set of DPs into a set of PVs.
10.Repeat steps 5-9 (as required) to develop a product/service portfolio that can support the strategic and tactical goals of the organization.

All of this is necessary to survive. This is a complex set of requirements. You could even identify this as a business need (a special type of SN). Therefore, a response must be identified in order to satisfy this need. That response is Competitive Excellence.

Competitive Excellence
“Consider the little mouse, how sagacious an animal it is which never entrusts its life to one hole only.”
– Plautus

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Aristotle

Competitive Excellence is the holistic response to the business need identified in the previous section. In order for an organization to be supported across the entire developmental process a number of methods need their activity to be coordinated. The methods need full integration and systematization as well. This work will take time and require a number of hybridization efforts (like the integration of Lean and Six Sigma has required). The following table indicates business needs coupled to a methodology that will provide the required competency for the ideal provision of the particular need state.

Table 1: A Basic Competitive Excellence Model

Need State3



Strategic Thinking

Creative Strategic Thinking


Strategic Planning

Hoshin Strategic Thinking


Process Management

Process Management Excellence6


Waste Management



Process Optimization

Six Sigma


Process/Service Development


Design for Excellence7

Research and Development


Systematic Strategic Innovation8

Problem Solving

Systematic Tactical Innovation9

Systematic Tactical Innovation

The simultaneous needs to preserve and to evolve require an organization to be able to separate its efforts across all of these methods. This requires enormous resources but is absolutely crucial for long term survivability. The way to minimize effort and preclude the possibility of competing deployments is to fully integrate these methods into a single, holistic model. This is the Competitive Excellence Model (CEM).10 The CEM enables an organization to identify the right concept at the right time, implement the concept, exceed customer requirements and be manufacturable at the Six Sigma level. Another way to look at the CEM is to consider the evolving degree of systematization in the three main areas of business excellence: Productivity, Quality and Innovation. The First Wave is Productivity systematization. The Second Wave is Quality systematization. And the Third Wave is Innovation systematization. Competitive Excellence is the intersection of these waves. That point of intersection defines the capabilities necessary to extend organizational survivability indefinitely.

The Three Waves: Productivity, Quality and Innovation


CEM Deployment
“The price of excellence is discipline. The cost of mediocrity is disappointment.”
– William Arthur Ward

The key to success, in this case anyway, is discipline. Aristotle said, “…we are what we repeatedly do…” We need to be disciplined in order to practice the habit of systematic execution. We need to learn the new methods and work to form the seamless integration of one with the next. We need a successful deployment model that fuses the elements of culture, infrastructure and method that also will yield an adequate organizational proficiency. We need to reduce to practice what before was the ad hoc machinations of a select few. We need to significantly increase organizational effectiveness and we need to do it on a scale much larger than the scope typical with Six Sigma. The cost of doing business as it has been done is much greater than disappointment. It is more expensive than any of us can afford. It is imperative then, to be proactive in our approach to Competitive Excellence. We need to develop this competency while we think we don’t need it – in order to have it when the needs arise. Find your burning platform and use it to motivate your organization to excel. Move from business as usual to business as exceptional. Use the CEM to enable you on this long and difficult (but necessary) journey.

Six Sigma will continue to evolve. As it does, it will absorb methodologies into its structure just as it has in the past.11 Looking ahead, we can use the domains of concept commercialization as a means of identifying evolving business needs. As a proactive response to this emerging need, the CEM has been developed in concept and practice and is an extension of the Six Sigma concept.

[1] Concept generation must be conducted using a systematic approach to ideation and problem solving. The traditional brainstorming and trial-and-error approaches are not robust enough and become the constraint in the commercialization of a concept when coupled with leading edge methods like QFD, Axiomatic Deign, Six Sigma and DFSS.

[2] Brownian Motion, named after Scottish botanist Robert Brown, is the random movement of microscopic particles suspended in liquids or gases resulting from the impact of molecules of the surrounding medium. Corporate Brownian Motion is the phenomenon in which members of a corporation do what they think is best for the organization and react to each others activities. There is no concerted effort to achieve, just effort to do.

[3] These need states are representative of critical elements necessary for concept commercialization and are not meant to be exhaustive.

[4] See “Ambidextrous Innovation.”

[5] See “Ambidextrous Innovation.”

[6] PMX is defined as being the identification of key and enabling process, creation of process maps, creation of SOPs and the synergistic alignment of process management science with strategy and Six Sigma.

[7] DFX is defined as the traditional DFSS framework with the integration of Systematic Tactical and Strategic Innovation with Axiomatic Design.

[8] See “Ambidextrous Innovation.”

[9] See “Ambidextrous Innovation.”

[10] The CEM is the generic theoretical framework. It is expected that each organization will create its own application version and customize as required to match the culture and organizational infrastructure.

[11] See the works of Juran, Deming, Crosby, Feigenbaum, Fisher, Taguchi, Akao, Mizuno and Shingo, to name but a few.

About the Author:
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit