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Six Sigma and Innovation Need Not Be Exclusive

In a production and development environment, Six Sigma attempts to reduce rework from the start, cutting down on costs and development cycle time. Compared to the try-fail method, in which practitioners usually generate thousands of ideas before finding a really useful concept for developing a new product or service, Six Sigma’s systematic approach may be seen as a threat to creativity.

Clearly, there is a conflict here: Is it worth generating really innovative ideas, assuming the costs and time of the many attempts required?

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Usually, when companies face such a problem, they tend to adopt conciliating solutions to get partial benefits of both options. But this often also means assuming the costs of both. To gain greater benefits at a lower cost, a better plan for integration is needed.

The Solution in TRIZ

One technique for eliminating the conflict between innovation and Six Sigma is TRIZ, which is the (Russian) acronym for the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.” TRIZ is an innovation algorithm toolkit for generating solutions more effectively, and was developed in the former U.S.S.R. by G.S. Altshuller and his colleagues between 1946 and 1985.

TRIZ comes from the principle that any innovative idea or development always aims to improve ideality, which is the relation between useful or desired effects generated by the developed system and undesired effects of the same system, either resources used or harmful effects.

Widening useful effects often also implies widening the harmful effects, which brings up a conflict. During TRIZ development, by studying millions of patent requests registered in the U.S.S.R., researchers noticed that in many cases the same obstacle to increasing the ideality of a solution was solved in a similar way by a number of inventors in different scenarios, mostly using the try-fail method. After observing that solutions developed in a specific situation can be applied to other problems, even outside the industries or areas of knowledge in which they have been conceived, Altshuller proposed developing systematic methods to make this evolving process of innovative solutions easier. By making use of algorithms proposed by TRIZ, it is possible to study a system and quickly identify innovative solutions to eliminate conflicts, thus avoiding conciliating solutions.

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Solving the Conflict

The conflict between Six Sigma and innovation can now be analyzed under the view of TRIZ by making use of one of its more common algorithms, the inventive principles method. This method consists of writing a real problem in the view of pre-established parameters and looking in a database for analog solutions that make the design of a specific solution simpler.

Further resolution may come from enhancing the reliability of the innovation process. This means improving the method’s ability to generate useful ideas without losing energy by making use of resources that do not contribute to performing a task. There are at least two ways to do this:

  • Cushion in advance: Prepare emergency means beforehand to compensate for the low reliability of a system. Which part of the actual system has low reliability? The innovation process, for it may depend on several attempts to obtain results.
  • Parameter (or property) change: Change the degree of flexibility. Generally, innovation is designed as a really flexible process. One possibility could be to input a stricter and structured algorithm to this process.

The addition of TRIZ techniques to the innovation process, combining the efficiency metrics requested by Six Sigma with the necessity of effective powerful solutions to increase the ideality of products and services to the customer is another way to enhance the process.

Uses for TRIZ in Combination with Six Sigma

By combining TRIZ tools and Six Sigma, practitioners can get better results than those obtained using a single method.

In improvement projects, for example, solutions normally are prioritized based on their impact on the metrics, cost and time of implementation. But this method does not allow for prioritizing a high impact solution that is not ideal above less powerful, but easier, actions. Identifying the contradictions in the original solution, TRIZ may help to generate an innovative idea which allows matching customers’ critical to quality requirements (CTQs) in a more effective way and consuming minimal resources.

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In Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), project deployment is typically oriented according to a quality function deployment. This allows for a detailed listing of customers’ requests, translating them into inner specifications for the company. In this tool it is possible to identify trade-offs, which are conflicts between the different needs of the project stakeholders. These trade-offs, when ignored early on in the project, will demand many resources to be managed after the product launching. With TRIZ it is possible to actually eliminate these conflicts.

Another use for TRIZ is in the identification of DFSS project opportunities. Usually, DFSS projects are chosen based on products, services or processes that the company plans to launch. Depending on the company’s market and the degree of maturity of the strategic planning, this approach may lead to the choice of subjects that have little impact on the company’s results. An analysis of the trends of technical systems evolution, another TRIZ tool, may help to understand which are the most promising ways to launch the next generation of a product or service line.

A Paradox No Longer

Adapting Six Sigma in order to better assist processes concerning new product and service development, or even process redesign, requires adding tools from other areas of knowledge. The input of TRIZ within Six Sigma may increase a company’s efficiency in already existing processes, as well as in the creation of new products, services and processes that allows for the company to stay competitive.

Comments 2

  1. TrollCall

    To have to develop a process to offset the bad effects of a manufacturing process not even designed for creative processes like innovation is forcing it. Six Sigma has no place in the creative space. It can be used to handle the improvement of whatever product comes out of the creative process to improve said product, but Six Sigma has no place in the creation of anything.

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  2. Chris Seider

    Interesting note by previous commenter.

    I guess using numerical tools have no place in creativeness? Ability to perform at an expected level of excellence should be accounted for at some time BEFORE roll out–my two cents. This is typically a stage gate process.

    Also there are differences in the design of a product/process and the ability to reliably produce the product/service. Both must be accounted for in order to succeed.

    Nicely written article.

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