In a disruptive age, Innovation looks like the flavor of the moment for tech industries and entrepreneurs, is quality helping drive innovation or just blocking its way?
In 2014 I was interviewing several business owners, CEO’s and entrepreneurs about quality methodologies applied in born-global companies and small business, when an interesting question came through. The interviewees were from different industries like banking, telecommunications and software, and even different countries. Some of them mentioned that they couldn’t apply quality management within their business. Apparently they were “too innovative”.
That statement really went directly though my heart as a knife. What were we doing wrong as quality practitioners? How come successful business man were thinking quality management was not good enough for them? Was it really true? How could we manage to make them change their mind? Yes, we have to be innovative enough to succeed in our new venture.
Companies that apply quality today to innovate
Well my first answer to that question comes with a clear example. Apple, one of the most innovative companies in the world, is quality oriented.
Actually the very Steve Jobs had an interview with Juran to get to know more about quality. He built his plants as if he were a 5S master, clean and organized always as brand new.
But still innovation is not shown in the new version of the ISO 9001:2015. It’s like we know we need it, but we don’t know how to rule it. But it is simpler. As the ASQ Global State Quality of Quality Research 2 put it, “Innovation is fundamentally the act of doing things better, faster, more efficiently, or with higher quality. At its core, innovation is process improvement—just on a bigger scale.”
Phil Crosby once said that quality was doing things right the first time. You can use innovation to improve the way you perform and do things right the first time. So you use innovation for quality management. The question is, do you need quality for innovation? If we can answer that, we have a good alibi to survive to techy business owners.
The best way to get innovation to be productive for your business is to make it repeatable. The most well-known innovation is the one that a single gifted individual produces, like a Mark Zuckerberg or a Richard Branson. But what if you make it more earthly, helping everyone in the company to be innovative? You can do it by making the innovation process repeatable, available to everyone, still customer focused and profitable. Quality management can help you achieve that.
Yes, you do need quality to foster innovation. Phil Crosby also said that “all work is a process”, and innovation is not an exception.
Innovation and quality management
There are several quality management tools that can help you in your innovation journey. Brainstorming sessions and Triz are good tools to produce new ideas. Triz for example is a practical methodology for generating innovative solutions. TRIZ practitioners apply 40 principles to create and to improve products, services, and systems.
Lean SOP’s or standard operating procedures can help innovation to be part of the culture by defining a specific process to foster innovation across the Company. Google encourages their employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” Their founders said that “This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances (like Gmail or AdSense) have happened in this manner.” Google also included some mindfulness training sessions to help their employees be even more focused and productive.
Even McKinsey has found out a process to business-model innovation in the July 2015 paper “Disrupting beliefs: A new approach to business-model innovation” from Marc de Jong and Menno van Dijk. The process they describe is the following:
Outline the dominant business model in your industry.
What are the long-held core beliefs about how to create value within your industry? A brainstorming will help you do this within your team of experts.
Dissect the most important long-held belief into its supporting notions.
Like Howard Schultz did when developed Starbucks: why people were drinking coffee? Why did people drink espresso in Italy but not in the US? You can use a fish bone diagram to analyze the root causes of why people buy to the competitors today.
Turn an underlying belief on its head.
That is, formulate a radical new hypothesis that is hard to believe, like Apple: What if consumers want to buy electronics in stores, even after Dell educated them to prefer direct buying? The 5 why’s technique can help you get deeper into each of the root causes to understand what the consumer really wants. You can also use statistical Six Sigma tools like correlation charts to evaluate real data from marketing research and focus groups.
Sanity-test your reframe
Many reframed beliefs will just be non- sense. Applying a reframe that has already proved itself in another industry, like Airbnb has inspired Uber. You can use the 40 TRIZ principles to double check your reframe. They are are known solutions used to solve contradictions. Using these principles in new problems bring innovative solutions. For example, one of the principles is segmentation: Divide an object into independent parts. That’s how a typical mainframe computer started to be replaced by personal computers.
Translate the re-framed belief into your industry’s new business model.
A new way to interact with customers, organize your operating model, leverage your resources, or capture income. Henry Ford ideas for mass production came from seeing a meat processing factory and applying the factory’s concepts to production of motor vehicles. You can use the house of quality or quality function deployment quality function deployment to coordinate skills of the different departments within an organization, to be able to design, manufacture and market goods that customers want to purchase and will continue to purchase based on your new ideas.
A matter of culture
As Peter Merrill says, “an effective quality management system is an essential platform for the innovator. You can come up with the best new product in the world, but if you can’t deliver, the competition will jump in and fill the vacuum of demand you have created”.
In the end, innovation and quality management go hand in hand. Quality improves the innovation process. At the same time innovation provides different ways to satisfy the customer and meet quality objectives. The one thing they both have in common is that the more you involve your customer needs in the process, you will be more successful. So don’t blame quality if you cannot innovate, blame your culture and focus more on your customer using quality management tools.
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Readers: How do you foster innovation?
CEO Biztorming Training & Consulting