December 28, 2005
Six Sigma - It's Not Just Me, ThenA quick post-festivities post (if you'll pardon the expression)...
Before Christmas I was deeply wrapped up in reading and research on the relationship between process management and innovation, and slowly coming to the conclusion that the former can stifle the latter. I chanced across this article that articulates my thoughts much more clearly - most probably because they've done their homework!
In summary, research done in the paint and photographics industries suggests a strong link between process management and what the authors call exploitative innovation. This essentially refers to slow, incremental improvements that build largely on existing knowledge. Kodak, for example, relied heavily on exploitative innovation, and were rather caught by surprise when photography ceased to be about chemicals, and became about light-sensitive silicon chips and digital imaging systems. In unstable, rapidly changing markets we need to be focusing on explorative innovation - those intuitive leaps or "light bulb" moments of inspiration that allows us to jump ahead and effectively skip years of incremental improvement.
This has further undermined my understanding of agility. The term "evolutionary" is liberally applied when discussing the agile development process, and yet I now see clearly that there is nothing at all agile about evolution. It is slow and pondering, and big changes take a very large number of iterations. Meanwhile, a competitor out there somewhere is having a light bulb moment that will leave you light years behind.
Not only am I left with no clear understanding of what we mean by "agile" any more, but I'm also very concerned about the effect of process improvement on what I always assumed was a process of innovation - software development. Do the likes of Six Sigma, ISO 9000 and CMMi strangle the creative process by stamping out variation? Is process improvement a path to equilibrium and organisational death? Are we turning brown bears into giant pandas?
Posted 3 weeks, 6 days ago on December 28, 2005