Business Innovation Group

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Visual Language

One the nuances most people miss about Six Sigma is the value of the graphical problem solving tools.  It is commonly accepted now that written text (like you are processing right now) is one of the most inefficient methods of communicating. We are visual creatures.  The old adage, “a picture paints a thousand words” is quite true.  If someone writes this symbol “+” on a whiteboard, we know they are going to talk about adding two things together.  That symbol did not always exist.  There was a time in history when, if you wrote that symbol on something, it would mean nothing.  But instead of having to explain that we are going to have two groups of things and we want to talk about what happens when we put the groups together (see?), we just draw the plus sign, and everybody gets it; in fact they don’t even think about it.

So now, we are adding new symbols to our vocabulary.  If some draws something that looks like the bones of a fish on the whiteboard, we know they mean causes-and-effects, and that we are going to talk about all the various things which affect something of interest.

If someone draws a square box with arrows going in and arrows coming out, and we are talking about some new project, we know we are going to talk about a process, its inputs, and its outputs, and probably about how we will measure those outputs as part of our project.

Being literate in this new more composite language highly accelerates our teamwork.

Learn the language of problem solving.  Remember that for any language, even if you can speak it, if you cannot read it and write it, you are illiterate in that language.

My Favorite DOEs

Ok.  Here goes my nerdy post.  I have a small set of go-to DOEs which I really like to use.

For screening at 2 levels, I like to use the Taguchi L12.  I can screen 11 factors in 12 runs.  If I don’t use one of the factors, I like to look at the effect anyway, since it is slightly confounded with the 2-way interactions of the other factors, which gives me a heads-up about possible interactions to look out for.

For screening at 3 levels, I like the Taguchi L18.  It also captures one 2-level factor and one interaction.  Good stuff!

For 2-level modeling, I like full factorial designs.  In my experience interactions are much more ubiquitous than most people think.  To me, fractional factorials are nothing but trouble for most people.  The one exception is the 2 5-1 half fractional factorial.  It is relatively safe in most cases.

For 3-level modeling I really like the Central Composite Design (CCD).  I like how I can use axial values as needed.  But I especially like how I can run the 2-level factorial portion first, along with center points, and only run the axials if the 2-level model does not sufficiently confirm.  Good stuff!

If you can get comfortable using these four, you’ll probably be able to handle the most (if not all) of the experiments you are faced with.

Happy experimenting!

The Biggest Factor in Six Sigma Success

… is leadership.  Not how statistically impressive Blackbelts are.  Not how many projects we can come up with.  Not how fast we can design a central composite DOE with full axial values and extra center points and replications (just flashing my union card a little).  It’s all about leadership engagement.

The fact is, many leaders don’t know what to do, or what they can ask for.  Six Sigma is a tool.  Tools are for leverage.  One of the first tools was the lever.  It gave leverage, or what we call mechanical advantage.  The tools of knowledge workers are to give us mental leverage in solving problems.

One of the best things a leader can do is to meet with some experienced Blackbelts and simply ask them how (s)he can help them the most in making breakthrough improvements for the company.  Meet more than once.  Work together.

It’s often not about salary or position.  It’s often about continuous engagement.  And a little recognition of appreciation here and there.

Psychological Inertia / Bias

There have been some famous experiments about why we can’t “think out of the box”. It has to do with the way we learn. We learn by linking like things together as concepts, and add to that the notion of how they function.
“Little Johnnie, what is that?”
“That is a dog.”
“What does a dog do?”
“Woof! Woof!”
“Good little Johnnie”
Get it? So from that moment on (so to speak) it will be hard to think about a dog doing something different. This is called “functional fixedness”.
There is a set of innovation tools called Psychological and Emotional Methods of Problem Solving. These tools are designed to get pull us away from this psychological inertia.
I will try to talk about some of these in a future post.

Lazy Ideality

In the area of Strategic Innovation, we are always trying to see what the new thing might be. One simple tool is what I call Lazy Ideality. Ideality means to think about what would be even more “ideal” that the current product design. A simple mental tool for this is to think about being extremely lazy.
For example, what if I’m in the recliner and I want to change channels on my TV and Oh No! the remote is across the room! Or what if I want to send a new blog post but don’t want to have to enter a username and password (whew!). Wouldn’t it be nice to just tell your TV what to do! Wait, but what if you want to watch that video on your phone on your TV? So why can’t I let them work that out? They’re supposed to be smart devices, right? If my phone can’t send a video to my TV and my TV pay it, how smart is that? Not very!
And so it goes. Another way to look at this basic problem of “input” is that it comes down to the communication of your will to a device (or devices). Devices will indeed move more toward conversation, between humans and devices, and among the devices themselves.
So what if you don’t even want to talk?

Tactical Innovation Problems

The problems with new ideas usually require some level of inventiveness to solve.  That is because they often end up as what we call “physical contradictions”, or PCs.  A PC manifests itself when we want (need) something to different ways.  For example, we might want something stronger but lighter.  We may need something one place for one reason and another place for another reason.  So does this mean there is no solution? Absolutely not!  It means we need an inventive solution.  This type of problem is called a contradiction.  Solving contradictions usually creates patentable intellectual property. TRIZ is a Russian acronym which is generally translated into English as the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.  However, I’ve thought for a while now that a better description is something like, “the theory of how to solve the type of problems inventors face”.  TRIZ is all about solving contradictions.  I’ll write more later about some of the types of contradictions and how to solve

Divergence and Convergence

One of the basic workflows behind innovation is that divergent ideation is needed to get ideas and possibilities.  However, these ideas usually have problems which must be solved in order to become viable products (or services).  Convergence helps us solve these inventive problems.

Another way to look at it is that Strategic Innovation means coming up with what people will want to spend money on next, whether they realize it now or not.  Tactical Innovation is needed to solve the inventive problems associated with these new ideas.  In the process we commonly produce patentable intellectual property.

See our blog categories and Strategic and Tactical Innovation.

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