Top 4 Innovation Methodologies

Caitlyn Gibbons

Caitlyn Gibbons

When working in a business that requires you to create change constantly and systematically, it can be difficult to decide on the right innovation methodology.  Making big changes can be messy.  Using an innovation methodology is important, because it serves as a guide; it is a necessary tool to provide structure when finding new efficiencies and improvements.  When considering methodologies, utilities have several options, including:

  • Six Sigma
  • Agile Design Thinking
  • Global Innovation Management Methodology

Below is what you need to know about each one.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma methodology focuses on the “what.”  What is the problem?  What can we do to fix the problem? 

According to Six Sigma Daily, “Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology that provides tools and techniques to define and evaluate each step of a process.  It provides methods to improve efficiencies in a business structure, improve the quality of the process and increase the bottom-line profit.” This method gets its roots from 19th century mathematical theory and is currently used as one of the top methodologies for improving efficiency and customer satisfaction.  

This methodology includes five steps known as DMAIC:

  1. D–Define the problem.  Assess what needs to be done to improve the issue at hand.
  2. M–Measure the data.  Data is collected around the area that needs to be improved.
  3. A–Analyze the data.  This is where the team breaks down the data in order to determine the cause of the issue.
  4. I—Improvement. In this stage, teams develop methods to solve the problem.
  5. C—Control.  Once a solution is implemented, data is still collected in the area to determine if the solution is effective.

Pros Cons
 1) This methodology allows utilities to assess quality.  It helps point out specific problems and help find solutions that will work in the long run.  Since it is number-based and looks at standard deviation, it is easy to detect areas that need improvement.   1) Since this method is data driven, there can be a lot of tedious and complicated work.  Statistical issues in data entry can give very inaccurate results.  
2) It is also notable that this methodology allows businesses to find and solve problems before any loss occurs.  This means that using this method will increase overall profitability.   2) Six Sigma Daily also mentions that, “For small businesses, it may constrain new ideas favoring creativity and innovation, which require some risk-taking to implement.”  
3) It boosts teamwork. The Six Sigma Methodology requires people known as Sigma Black Belts to teach its philosophies to the rest of the team.  It is a continuous process that is passed down to new team members who can be either green or yellow belts.   3) Another area to be concerned about is that businesses must find and hire trained Sigma Black Belts.  Not everyone can be a black belt; certification is necessary.  

 

Agile Design Thinking

While Six Sigma focuses on the “what”, Agile Design Thinking methodologies focus on the “how.”  Experience Point defines Agile as, “a method to solve predefined problems.”  This kind of thinking focuses mainly on software development. Agile thinking across businesses has many different steps.  A good summation of the steps is mentioned in the Learning Hub article, Think Like a Startup: 4 Steps to Agile Innovation.  The steps are:

  1. Choose a product lifecycle stage to conduct concept testing.
  2. Choose a research method.
  3. Turn data into actionable insights.
  4. Identify the best possible sample.

Pros Cons
1) Agile thinking promotes creative solutions to problems. Using agile thinking allows for more innovation and adaptation compared to using a fixed way to solve problems.  This could potentially lead to learning easier ways to solve issues and promote efficiency. 1) Since there is no predetermined action plan, finding a solution can be difficult.  Just like a nasty case of writer’s block, finding solutions with no guide can be challenging.  It’s important to define a clear goal to enable developers to stay focused.  
2) It’s fast and flexible.  Software developers must communicate with their customers to see if changes in software improve.  This way feedback and new software trials are implemented at the same time.  This could potentially lead to faster turnaround times.   2) In an INC blog post,The Massive Downside of Agile Software Development, it is mentioned that one of the downfalls of this method is the time commitment.  Daily users are necessary to expedite testing and sign off on each task.  Without this, developers cannot move on to the next step. This can be difficult for people who do not have flexible schedules.  Tedious processes may be cumbersome for some individuals.

 

Design Thinking

Design thinking focuses on empathy and customer relationships. Experience Point defines design thinking as, “focusing on the right problems to solve.”  According to the Interaction Design Foundation, this method follows five steps:

  1. Empathize – Research overall company needs.
  2. Define – Determine a specific need to be addressed.
  3. Ideate – Create ideas on how to solve the defined issue.
  4. Prototype – Create possible solutions.
  5. Test – Try out prototypes until one works.

Pros Cons
1) One of the clear benefits of this methodology is better customer relationships.  Design thinking focuses on empathy.  Understanding customer needs to define goals is a great method for supporting customer-centricity.   1) This method also requires direct involvement from users.  Customers must be willing to engage with developers to provide an accurate scope of the problem.
2) Since there is a focus on specific customer issues, it creates new pathways for customer experience.  Unique problems have unique solutions. 2) Diverse customer issues can take a long time to solve.  Since engagement is needed, there can be a lot of back and forth that takes place until a solution is reached.  They’re called prototypes for a reason!

 

Global Innovation Management

The University of Newcastle defines this method as, “the fundamental and growing importance of introducing and applying theory, models, and tools of innovation management to a modern enterprise in a global context.”  The processes of this method are rather undefined because it must take culture into consideration and deals with many diverse ideas.  QuestionPro’s blog article, The Top Four Most Common Innovation Methodologies, states that there are five steps in this method.  Those steps are as follows:

  1. Identify and define their goals.
  2. Conduct research.
  3. Align their strategy to their capabilities.
  4. Develop concepts.
  5. Make a case for particularly inspiring ideas.

Pros Cons
1) A benefit of this method is that it is flexible. It can be applied to almost any problem or context. 1) Ideas in global innovation are like a free-for-all. It doesn’t guarantee that any ideas will harbor success.
2) It can be used to implement small to large changes. 2) It requires certification.
3) This method has been successfully used in companies of all sizes. 3) It requires the use of intellectual property. Some people might not be willing to share their ideas.

 

Conclusion

Innovation methods aren’t a one size fits all deal.  It can be difficult to pick the best practice for your business.  What you can do is remember a few key factors that will help you determine which practice is best.  Company size is an important factor.  The fact that some methodologies may facilitate or constrain new ideas is another.  A third element to look at is the nature and magnitude of the problem.  Some methods solve a variety of general problems and some aim to solve specific issues.  If you’re looking to solve a specific problem, then Agile Thinking is a good route compared to Global Innovation Management which is a melting pot of ideas.  Also keep in mind how much time is available to make changes–some methods take longer than others. Lastly, it is important to remember that while these are the top four methods, there are other methods out there.  Do your research and choose the one that’s best for your business.

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