Authored by Mikel J. Harry, Ph.D.
When it comes to innovation, like improvement, there are two basic types; namely, breakthrough and incremental. While breakthrough innovations are great, they don’t happen every day; however, incremental innovations can be realized every day (given the right culture and leadership). In this regard, Six Sigma is designed to create breakthrough improvements, but is not configured to support the realization of breakthrough innovations. However, Six Sigma can support and enable incremental and breakthrough improvement.
So, the argument that Six Sigma can be a roadblock to innovation is circumstantially true, but only if the frame of reference is breakthrough innovation (as Six Sigma was not designed for this purpose). In the context of incremental innovation, many of the Six Sigma tools (like design of experiments) can and often does lead to innovative new ways of doing things while, at the same time, making improvements in operational performance — as has been demonstrated by many, many black belt projects.
Thus, we can be innovative in how we make improvements. We can also improve the way in which we incrementally innovate. Of greater consequence is whether or not we have improved the value proposition of the company.
Owing to these points of reasoning, it is clear that we must move from being in the Business of Quality to focusing on the Quality of our Business. In the final analysis, improving the quality of our business is what our customers and shareholders are most concerned with.