The DMAIC model (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) seems to make a lot of sense when driving efficiencies in existing processes. It provides focus on rigorous statistical analysis. The phrase "you can't improve what you can't measure" is often used, as is the term, "the voice of the customer" which implies focus on what the customer sees as success. Both of these concepts if applied to innovation can result in missed opportunities or even worse.
According to Eric von Hippel, MITSloan School of Management professor, "rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you'd like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on—or you don't even know the nature of the problem you're trying to define? "New things look very bad on this scale."
If we consider some of the leaders of 6 Sigma, how many would we consider as current leaders in innovation? I'm not sure. The companies often discussed are Motorola (the father of 6 Sigma), Dell Computers, GE. Each of these 3 companies have arguably lost their innovative edge. Could this be because of 6 sigma philosophy that has permeated into innovation?
According to Christensen's work from The Innovators Dilemma, truly disruptive innovation, is NOT what the customers want or what the shareholders want (until it's too late). Radical innovative concepts are simply too radical without proven ROI. In fact, too many companies have failed to jump the curve because they were "held hostage by their customers" and/or shareholders. Christensen uses the examples of diskdrives to explain his point.
" Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late?...Mainframe computer manufacturers (customers)... wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers... that would ultimately prove fatal."
In my opinion, 6 Sigma is a proven toolset on driving efficiencies, process management and quality control. Does it mean, I would apply it to everything? No! Just because I have a hammer doesn't mean everything is a nail. Knowing when to apply it, and when not to apply it is critical. When dealing with innovation, be cautious on the limitations you force upon your people through your processes.
What are your thoughts? I know there are some blackbelts in 6 Sigma reading this and would love to hear your thoughts.