Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Welcoming the New, Improving the Old
NYT, Sept 6, 2009

An important theme we developed over our blog’s history is the importance for companies to be “ambidextrous”—using multiple processes to achieve business success (see our blog site --
- -for a grouping of earlier postings on this subject under the PROCESS-BEING AMBIDEXTROUS category). The focus has been the proper deployment of processes like 6 Sigma and innovative process like the one discussed below. It is my experience that companies tend to latch on to one process (usually 6 Sigma) with a religious fervor trying to adapt it to all situations.

“For decades, companies from Cisco Systems to Staples to Bank of America have worked to embed the basic techniques of Six Sigma, the business approach that relies on measurement and analysis to make operations as efficient as possible.
More recently, in the last 5 to 10 years, they have been told they must master a new set of skills known as “design thinking.” Aiming to help companies innovate, design thinking starts with an intense focus on understanding real problems customers face in their day-to-day lives — often using techniques
derived from ethnographers
(study customers vs. just asking what they want)— and then entertains a range of possible solutions.

To many, the two skill sets don’t fit together well, and Chuck Jones, vice president for global consumer design at Whirlpool, explains why that may be so. Design thinkers, he says, are like quantum physicists, able to consider a world in which anything — like traveling at the speed of light — is theoretically possible. But a majority of people, including the Six Sigma advocates in most corporations, think more like Newtonian physicists — focused on measurement along three well-defined dimensions.
(This is one of the best comparisons I have seen!!)……..

…..To survive, many businesses will have to figure out how to incorporate both approaches. Design thinking offers tools for exploring new markets and opportunities; Six Sigma skills can be applied to improve existing products. Companies that adhere strictly to one or the other risk failure. “The practices that make for success at one time can trap firms and contribute to their downfall at a later time,” says Bob Cole…….

……..the Six Sigma process starts with an assumption about what is good…..Design thinking, meanwhile, inquires as to what is good…..

The different world views, however, can be brought together.
Progressive Insurance has also turned design and Six Sigma techniques into reasonably comfortable bedfellows. In the early 1990s, it started emphasizing showing up at an accident scene and handling situations in real time, according to a 2004 article by Michael Hammer in The Harvard Business Review. That move reflected a designer’s way of thinking about customer needs, but the company was able to execute the idea through its ability to measure, analyze and improve its processes.

Both worlds — the quantum one where designers push boundaries to surprise and delight, and the Newtonian one where workers meet deadlines and margins — are meaningful. The most successful companies will learn to build bridges between them and leverage them both. "

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