An innovative spirit and a desire to disrupt the status quo is what drives most entrepreneurs on their quest for greatness. So, if innovation is the creation of something new or introducing something different, can we also say that a new process, product or service within an existing organisation is innovation?
It’s a question that is particularly relevant when looking at the Six Sigma methodology and its corresponding framework, DMADV. DMADV is a process within Six Sigma that specifically focuses on the development of a new product, process or service as opposed to improving a new one.
Through the analysis of data and early identification of success, the Define-Measures-Analyse-Design-Verify process seeks to find a better way within a company’s normal operations. With a focus on efficiency, DMADV is all about getting things right the first time.
While business models similar to Six Sigma have been around since the industrial revolution, the process in its current form is attributed to an engineer at Motorola who coined the phrase in the 1980s. Looking to make significant savings on the production line, Motorola standardised core processes and achieved an estimated $16 billion in savings along the way. Through extremely ambitious goals, Six Sigma minimises the occurrence of flaws in products and services, decreases cycle time, pollution and costs. It also helps increase profits by increasing customer satisfaction.
Does Six Sigma stifle innovation? At its core, Six Sigma identifies and eliminates variance. So, it’s understandable to see why many believe that Six Sigma does not support innovation. It is argued that variance, or even error, is essential for innovation and growth.
But there are many that would argue that DMADV does, in fact, help the creative process. Like Six Sigma, DMADV seeks to make a business process more efficient and effective but with a focus on identifying problems and possible solutions, DMADV opens the door for innovation. So, it is a useful tool for entrepreneurs.
When is DMADV valuable?
- When an organisation is looking to develop a product or process that has never been done before.
- When a process improvement doesn’t meet expectations or fails in its objectives
The DMADV Framework
If you’re looking for further learning and analysis on Six Sigma, there’s no shortage of good reference material online. Experts from both sides of the argument have examined DMADV and DMAIC frameworks in great length. But for now, we’ll take a light bite, and reference the Management Study Guide’s definition of the phases of DMADV.
Define Customer Needs:
The DMADV begins by helping define the customer needs better. DMADV is customer focused. The orientation is towards studying the implicit and explicit needs of a customer. Customer need not be a person or even an organisation. The process that uses your output as its input can also be your customer. Hence the emphasis is on backwards induction. One starts by thinking how they want things to be and work backwards.
At this stage, consumer needs are translated into metrics that can be measured. This is because unless something is measurable, it is difficult to objectively state whether any improvement has taken place. Specifications of the way needs are being met and they way they ought to be met give the BPM analysts an objective measure.
Analyse the Problem:
At this stage, the problem is analysed on a deeper level. The behaviour of each activity in the process, as well as the value it adds, is observed. Finally, the problem point is found, and better ways of organising the process are examined.
Design to Meet Customer Needs Better:
At this stage, many alternative processes are designed. These processes are then looked upon as alternative solutions and the one that meets the customer’s requirements best are chosen.
Simulate to Verify:
The DMADV methodology uses objective statements to verify whether consumer needs are being met better. Simulations are run after the new process is deployed. The measurements are then compared with the previous measurements to ensure that improvement has taken place and in the right direction.
Not everyone loves it
In many circles, the broader Six Sigma methodology is maligned and accused of creating pitfalls for innovative companies. One of its most noteworthy adversaries is Geoff Nicholson, former VP of 3M, and the man widely regarded as the father of the Post-It note. Nicholson himself has said that “The Six Sigma process killed innovation at 3M”. He believes that it is difficult for innovation to thrive in an environment where failure is admonished, and resources to support innovation are removed. Nicholson also believes that many commonly practised processes have their part of play in the suffocation of creativity. These include the 5-year plan and the requirement that staff must go through all levels of the organisation with a new idea.
DMADV and Startups
DMADV aims to achieve a result that is “completely aligned with customer expectations, wants and needs’. Far from stifling innovation or creative thinking, DMADV provides vital knowledge that allows innovation to thrive. It provides tools to ensure that innovation is thriving and that it is thriving in the right direction. And most importantly, DMADV analysis saves costs by making sure you get it right the first time. Something that is so important to the shoestring budgets of startups.