Lean Innovation for Business

Having worked with teams in many industries over the last two decades, I have found that even if a team can identify a specific problem and its causes, they often have inflexibility about developing solutions. Fortunately, a method of coming up with innovative solutions already exists; it’s called TRIZ – the theory of inventive problem solving.

TRIZ as described in 40 Principles by Genrich Altshuller is mainly focused on physical innovations, but it can be applied to processes with a little innovative thinking.

Lean Innovations

When it comes to Lean, there are a couple of main principles for innovative solution development:

•Pull vs Push (let the customer pull the product or service, don’t push)
•No delay vs delay (eliminate delays)
•Parallel vs Sequential (do more things in parallel)
•No action vs action (eliminate unnecessary processing)

In TRIZ, this is Principle #13: Do the opposite.

I often find that procedures were developed to treat all situations equally. Recently, a human resources department was having trouble replacing employees. When we looked at the data, the most frequent hire (80% of total hires) was an entry-level customer service representative (CSR). There was a standard policy that all jobs had to be offered internally for five days. When we looked at the data, no one applied internally for those CSR jobs.

Eliminating the five day internal opening for CSR jobs saved over 250 days of delay per year. This will save about one-third of the average hiring time. Principle in use: eliminate unnecessary processing (no action vs action).

Six Sigma Innovations

Principle #1 of TRIZ: Segmentation: In Six Sigma, one of the most powerful tools is the Pareto Chart because it segments the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. Altshuller says: With each step the area of search gets narrower. Teams, by their nature, want to expand the scope not narrow it.

Whalebone Diagramming: One of my key indicators that problems were not segmented enough is when a fishbone diagram turns into a whalebone diagram covering an entire conference room wall. When this happens, go back and narrow the focus.

Mistake Proofing: One of the key principles of Six Sigma is mistake-proofing, changing the system to prevent errors or variation.

One of the 40 principles is the concept of an Ideal Final Result (IFR). Let’s say you’ve identified the root cause, now imagine a world where it is impossible for a mistake, error, defect or variation to occur. When we eliminate the root cause, the problem will simply disappear.

Unfortunately, most teams fall back into “word traps” that suggest solutions like:
•More training
•More money
•More time
How would you change the system so that it required no money, no time and no training? This is the essence of a good solution.

Characteristics of Good Solutions

Good solutions, Altshuller says, allow you to reach a result without complicating the system or without adding considerable cost. A good solution should:
•be a technical solution of the problem
•be substantially distinct from already known solutions
•produce a useful effect.

Altshuller says: The ingenuity of the inventor appears when he solves a complicated problem with a simple solution.

In the QI Macros for Excel, I work toward solutions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to select the data incorrectly (which is easy in Excel) or choose the wrong chart (Control Chart Wizard) or analyze the data incorrectly (PivotTable Wizard). I want everyone, regardless of training, to be able to draw Lean Six Sigma charts and graphs easily.

In manufacturing, I read somewhere that GE switched from a single, high-speed jet turbine blade grinder to several smaller, lower cost, lower speed ones producing better results with fewer defects. The bigger, faster machine required coating the blades with a material and then removing it afterward. While faster, the machine complicated the process–a bad solution.

Here’s My Point

Problem Solving with Six Sigma is innovative! The first part involves accurate segmentation and diagnosis of the problem. The second half involves inventive problem solving to make the process error-free, hopefully without expense, complexity or human involvement.

Are you going to stay stuck in the “mind traps” that hinder your productivity or profitability, or are you going to learn the essential principles of innovative problem solving? The choice is up to you.