Six Sigma vs. Innovation

Authored by Mikel J. Harry, Ph.D.

Document Jigsaw Pieces

Six Sigma Versus Innovation: Fitting the Pieces Together

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.

About Mikel Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized in many of today's notable publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world's leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations has been on the best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, and He has been a consultant to many of the world’s top senior executives, such as Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric Corporation. Dr. Harry has also been a featured guest on popular television programs, such as the premier NBC show "Power Lunch." He is often quoted in newspapers like USA Today and interviewed by the media, such as The Economic Times. In addition, Dr. Harry has received many distinguished awards in recognition of his contributions to industry and society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and CEO of The Great Discovery, LLC.
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One Response to Six Sigma vs. Innovation

  1. jeanletourneau says:

    Thank you very much for the clarification! I could not agree more with the mind set shift that is greatly needed out there from “Business of Quality to focusing on the Quality of our business.”

    I do believe also that it is possible to significantly augment the potential innovative capability of Six Sigma by adding some simple questions, a new tool, in the Define phase. Today, you never really know where the breakthrough ideas may come from. Simple ideas can turn out to be $Billion opportunities.

    This is my humble thought!

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