Despite recent news reports to the contrary, quality processes are not stifling creativity at major U.S. corporations. In fact, some highly profitable companies are using unique approaches to strike a balance between efficiency and innovation, according to a new report released recently by the American Society for Quality (ASQ).

In the report, ASQ profiles two major companies – DuPont and Procter & Gamble – well-known industry innovators that have taken steps to fully integrate the creativity-generating functions of R&D and product development with regular process management structures and practices. 

DuPont uses a variety of Six Sigma methods as well as Stage-Gate, a carefully designed business development process that encourages both consistency and speed. The aim is reduced waste in the design, development and commercialization of new products.  

"There’s no reason why Six Sigma should hamper innovation – if used properly," said Liz Keim, past president of ASQ who coaches businesses in quality management. "Companies need to understand that quality process tools aren’t appropriate for all pieces of a job and should carefully analyze where they can best benefit the bottom line."

P&G maintains that a major driver of its innovation is a unique mix of quality processes that provide structure. Two major examples are Future Works, an organization of multidisciplinary teams that seek innovation opportunities outside of existing business units, and Corporate Innovation Fund, which focuses on high-risk, high-reward ideas.

"More than any other factor, systems are the way we avoid dependence on ‘eureka!’ approaches to innovation," said Robert McDonald, P&G chief operating officer. "We select innovation projects, allocate resources and ultimately bring the best innovations to market with highly disciplined processes and systems."

The following are tips for businesses that are working to balance quality processes and innovation:

  • Keep things in perspective: Quality is broader than Six Sigma, and innovation is broader than breakthrough invention. 
  • Innovation occurs in social systems. Treat it like a team sport involving real-life interactions of multitudes of real people.
  • Go outside the boundaries of your own organization for innovation insights. Collaborate with customers, suppliers, business partners, and academia.
  • Think of innovation not as a series of unrelated eureka moments, but rather as a process—a change process that can be managed with familiar change management and quality management methods.
  • Establish a widespread culture of innovation in your organization. And build innovation-enhancing capabilities throughout a customer-centered value stream.
  • Challenge the common assumption that innovation is inversely related to structure.  Common knowledge will give you only common results no different than what everyone else is doing. 
  • Encourage divergent thinking during ideation and convergent thinking during development.

To view the complete report Fresh Thinking on Innovation and Quality, visit www.asq.org/2010/01/innovation/fresh-thinking-on-innovation-and-quality.pdf.
The American Society for Quality www.asq.orghas been the world's leading authority on quality for more than 60 years. With more than 85,000 individual and organizational members, the professional association advances learning, quality improvement and knowledge exchange to improve business results and to create better workplaces and communities worldwide. As a champion of the quality movement, ASQ offers technologies, concepts, tools and training to quality professionals, quality practitioners and everyday consumers. ASQ has been the sole administrator of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award since 1991. Headquartered in Milwaukee, ASQ is a founding sponsor of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a prominent quarterly economic indicator, and also produces the Quarterly Quality Report.