It’s almost becoming an age-old debate whether or not Six Sigma and innovation can co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. We have heard time and time again that Six Sigma “stifles innovation.” But where’s the data to prove it?

The most recent issue of BusinessWeek covers innovation at 3M and what Six Sigma has to do with it (but more about what Six Sigma doesn’t have to do with it). Apparently 3M is scaling down their Six Sigma efforts in the “innovation” centers of the company. It looks like we have one data point now.

Business blogs have been going crazy commenting on the BusinessWeek cover storie. Most bloggers quickly agreeing with what mainstream media prints. Hey, if it’s in BusinessWeek, Fortune, or the the WSJ, it’s gotta be true! While I could never agree that citing one company example is proof an entire methodology is corrupt, the article does dig deep in to how company culture influences innovation -and 3M surely has/had a data driven culture.

Mike Lopez, over at the Lean Blog, shares his first impression of the article:

“As a Lean Six Sigma black belt at my company, I find that reading these types of articles continuously reminds me that neither Lean nor Six Sigma is a panacea.”

I thought the exact same thing after reading the article (independent of Mike’s blog entry).Six Sigma is hardly acure all. And please do not blame all consultants for perpetuating this fallicy. I have never met a consultant who preached such falshoods.Unfortunately, if a company is not hitting their numbers,something must be blamed. Six Sigma companies (those that use the methodology) are perfect targets for this misguided blame. They are “supposed” to be perfect.

A comment to Mike’s post sums up my thoughts on the relationship between Six Sigma and innovation:

“It seems positively stupid to think you can’t have both Six Sigma AND innovation at the same time at a company. This is more of the “we can only focus on one management tool at a time” mentality that’s harmful and destructive. We have to throw out Six Sigma from the places it’s useful because our innovation has suffered?”

Amen. 3M needs to get to the root cause of their lackluster innovation instead of beating up Six Sigma… the same Six Sigma that has saved 3M billions of dollars. Sounds like an interesting andprofitable Six Sigma project…

The July/Aug 2007 issue of iSixSigma Magazine will include my latest research on Innovation and Six Sigma.We surveyed 1,000 people. Here’s a sneak preview of Finding Two:

The two keys to effective innovation are an actionable strategy and use of a systematic process.

Survey data suggests that two characteristics make an innovation program successful: an actionable strategy and using a systematic process.

Eighty-one percent of respondents who rated the innovation efforts of their company “effective” said the company is executing an innovation strategy. The strategy alone is not enough; the key is to be taking action on the strategy.

Half of the survey respondents indicated that their company has no innovation strategy.

Regarding how innovation occurs, of the respondents who rated their company’s innovation program effective, 84 percent said innovation occurs through a systematic process or methodology; 16 percent said it occurs on an ad hoc basis. This compares to respondents from programs rated “ineffective,” of which 2 percent said innovation is systematic and 98 percent said it is ad hoc.

If you’d like the full results of this research, subscribe to the Magazine, borrow the issue from a friend next month or make a meaningful comment below. I’ll send out a free copy of the magazine to the firstperson who shares their reaction/thoughts/opinion on the subject of innovation and Six Sigma. Go ahead share…


At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity, BusinessWeek, June 11, 2007

Six Sigma: So Yesterday?, BusinessWeek, June 11, 2007

Bloggers commenting on the BusinessWeek article

Innovation and Six Sigma, Real Innovation Commentary

Improvement and Innovation, Real Innovation Commentary

Putting Six Sigma back in its box, Cognitive Edge

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