Design for Six Sigma

Creativity and discipline – successful innovation management calls for both

Innovation has always dictated the pace of the economy. In keeping with Schumpeter’s theories, “creative destruction and creation of the new” change markets, products, and companies at breakneck speed. According to recent surveys, almost half of all chief executive officers see the ability to innovate as particularly crucial to the future of the company. Yet more than forty per cent of respondents complain that the results of their innovation projects fall short of the business goals they set.  

This was the situation facing a client of the Steinbeis company TQU my big apple GmbH. An international producer of mechatronic instruments, the company was forging ahead with its extremely technical, highly creative product development process, based on classic innovation processes covering several separate stages.

But as the client noticed, creativity alone is no guarantee that a new product will succeed. After scrutinizing the results of analysis carried out by experts at TQU my big apple into the current situation and the performance of individual departments, the company realized that its products and services did not exactly match up to customer requirements. Customers found the technology too complicated and as a result of this, slightly unreliable.

Directly after the analysis, development at the most successful innovators was benchmarked, showing that they were using standard, lean and powerful innovation and development processes. They also implemented internal processes in a highly disciplined manner. Standardized innovation processes allow a company to achieve its corporate goals and keep project teams disciplined, raising the probability that the innovation will succeed and improving the efficiency of innovation by accelerating processes, using resources more effectively and reducing the risk of making wrong decisions. Furthermore, they help coordinate activities across project teams throughout the organization, making it possible to measure innovation activities. Thus obliging people to improve innovation processes on an ongoing basis.

TQU introduced the client to a method called Design for Six Sigma, a useful technique for transforming existing development processes into a successful innovation management system. The project involved restructuring the development process into five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Validate.

During the Define phase the task in development is to define the top level business case, lay down the project scope and formalize measurable project goals. This phase also involves pulling together teams. In the second phase, Measure, underlying customer needs and requirements are captured and analyzed, and market gaps in demand are mapped through “voice of the customer” studies. During this analysis, all possible solutions are worked up and gauged in terms of performance versus customer requirements. This analysis brings the best concept to the fore, based on the fulfillment of customer expectations, and taking into account costs and production feasibility. The chosen solution, which now becomes more concrete for the customer and the company, moves into development in the Design phase. In the last phase, Validate, performance criteria are compared to the original goals and fulfillment of tangible customer requirements.

By adhering strictly to each phase of the process, the company benefits from a powerful and disciplined framework within which to work, which includes a series of pragmatic tools for efficient and effective innovation management. It helped the client of TQU my big apple GmbH achieve a healthy balance between creativity and discipline and has now laid the foundations for developing future products and services – in keeping with customer needs and requirements.  

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