Roasted Crow; recipes of the season

Design Thinking proponents are often at odds with advocates of Six Sigma and other quality-driven, process programs. I have been no exception. It is not that I don’t recognize the powerful competitive advantage such programs have driven over the past three decades. But in an age where quality is often a commodity, it seems reasonable that other innovative models should be considered. And given the unquestionable success of design thinking strategies and open collaborative models in the marketplace, can anyone doubt there are powerful alternatives to consider?

However, perhaps the question doesn’t have to be either/or?

Recently, Sara Beckman wrote an interesting article in the NYTimes— Welcoming the New, Improving the Old. In it, Beckman argues that the different world views of design thinking and six sigma-type quality systems can and should co-exist. Both belief systems— from the designer perspective that pushes boundaries to surprise and delight to the incrementally measured process where workers meet deadlines and margins — are meaningful. “The most successful companies,” Beckman writes, “will learn to build bridges between them and leverage them both.”

Of course, Beckman is correct. Any holistic design thinking process has to incorporate analytical thinking and process, relevant measurement, and incremental improvement. “I’s” have to be dotted. “T”s must be crossed. Advocating for creative culture and process does not  mean advocating against meaningful measurement and accountability.

The key question to consider is which process/culture will drive the most competitive advantage given the current challenges an organization faces. If an organization has been making it’s people act like robots for a long time and needs to change, perhaps Six Sigma is not the choice to make. On the other hand…

Tim Brown of IDEO, who recently published his first book Change By Design, thinks “perhaps we should think of design thinking and Six Sigma being part of a cycle, each feeding the other to create new and improved products, services and experiences. Of course the biggest challenge will be to build business cultures that are agile enough to incorporate both.”

Brown positions the challenge elegantly enough. But the complexity behind his simple declaration is staggering. Where would we begin? As a proponent of open collaborative models, I believe firmly in the competitive power such community-driven innovation serves. It’s so messy though for someone who believes in the order and engineered process of Six Sigma.

If I take this as a design challenge, I need to know more. And I’m wondering, are there good case studies that show how large organizations are attempting to do this now— combine Six Sigma and Design Thinking into a thoughtful cycle of process and culture?

I’d love to hear about them. Or anything close.

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