This week I thought we would discuss the relationship between Lean Six Sigma (LSS), Continuous Improvement (CI), and Innovation.  For this edition of Expert Connects, I am presenting a few snippets of how LSS, and CI sustain and drive innovation. This is not a once and done inspiration, it is a marathon that requires real capabilities, and a cultural mindset for driving innovation in an organization. 

Let’s begin with the question:  What is Innovation?   Mathew May suggests in “The Elegant Solution” that in Toyota the quest for the elegant solution shapes true innovation.  The quest for the elegant solution is an amalgam of three principles; ingenuity of craft, pursuit of perfection, and fit with society. 

Four years ago, Capgemini began deploying Lean Six Sigma in its Toronto Service Center.  Lean Six Sigma is a fusion of two best practice continuous improvement methodologies.  They have been adapted to the specific requirements of our customers, and the internal needs of BPOs continuous improvement and innovation programs.  In year one, the first of two major Lean initiatives in our Toronto Service Center were completed by a Kaizen team of supervisors and regular staff.  From those first efforts, the Toronto Service Center has steadily grown its capabilities; leadership has sponsored the training of hundreds of Capgemini and client staff.  All staff received Yellow Belt training, and over a hundred have received Green Belt, and Black Belt training.  More than 50 % of those trained as Green Belts and Black Belts received certification within a year of their training.   The results have been impressive; Capgemini leadership and staff have proposed and delivered major projects related to category management in procurement, discount realization for accounts payable, and automation of pay services transactions.  The fit with our client needs, and the pursuit of flawless delivery have been fostered by leadership, facilitated by BPOs infrastructure, and delivered by our staff.

The innovation capabilities that have nurtured in Toronto are the rule, not the exception.  Our Near Shore Service Center in Guatemala has experienced the same growth in the staff’s ability to deliver innovative solutions to customers.  The results have been spectacular to say the least.  One of the first managers to participate in the Lean Six Sigma training has partnered with his customer to deliver high quality innovative solutions that are consistently improving their bottom line.  For example, in late December of 2012, a dramatic solution was needed to improve New Sales Order Quality for our client.  Thousands of orders were delayed, due to incomplete or inaccurate information.  This was an issue that had plagued the clients operations for years…The solution was a dashboard regarding order correctness, screening tools to identify errors in the field, and continuous collaboration to ferret out the root causes of the problems.  The solution required a global implementation; it was deployed to five service centers and to every customer team in over 100 countries.  All of this was accomplished in under 40 days.  The results have been impressively on target.  One executive stated:  “This solution represents the single most important innovation to improve Sales Order Quality yet.”  Innovation is critical for customer satisfaction, and of course the bar has been raised, and the teams are responding.

This same scenario is playing out in all of Cap’s service centers.  The synergy of sound methodologies and continuous improvement are critical for creating the environment that fosters innovative solutions.  What differentiates the cultures of organizations that strive to be innovative? Here are some behavioral comparisons that may help illustrate the differences.

           Innovative       Non-Innovative
Go see for yourself Only grunts go to the floor
We have simple visual Standards We have some standards
Quality is everyone’s job Quality is the duty of a specialized few
Problems are exposed Problems are hidden
Improvement is continuous Layoffs
Leaders Teach Management Directs
Produce Quality Detect and repair defects
Design in Quality Fix it after deployment
Teamwork Results Focus
Best for the Customer Best for me
Process Focus Functional Focus
Everyone solves problems using the simplest methods The most complex methods are used to solve problems by specialists
Focus on customers’ requirements Deliver what we believe is important
Understand what is important Assume what is important
Welcome collaboration Resistant to change
Reward Innovation Make the numbers

Fostering the sort of mindset that is focused on the consistent delivery of innovative solutions to clients is not easy; it must be nurtured and rewarded by leadership…do not assume that it just happens.  For an organization to become innovative, it must have the will, and capability to face issues, understand client requirements, deliver solutions…as Mathew May has so elegantly stated: they must have an “ingenuity of craft, pursuit of perfection, and fit with society.