Process Improvement: When More Is Less

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Is there such a thing as too much process improvement?


Yes, says consultant David Taber. While process improvement efforts like Six Sigma tend to work well for established products, helping companies ensure that high quality standards are met, they aren't that helpful -- and in fact may be harmful -- when companies are trying to develop new and innovative products.


Calling it a "bitter irony" in a piece on SandHill.com, Taber says "the longer and more detailed the product specification, the more likely a truly innovative product is to fail."


A user-centric approach to product development, complemented by technology, is preferable to methodologies like Six Sigma in such cases, says Taber. Using technology, for instance, makes it possible to engage customers in a dialogue through Web-based communities of interest.


In an interview with IT Business Edge, the EVP of a company called QualPro opines that using Six Sigma can lead to a sort of tunnel vision. "You've optimized one process, but you don't have the ability to foresee what might happen down the line, how it will impact other processes," says the exec.


He also believes that Six Sigma can be quite costly, largely because it involves pulling employees away from their jobs for weeks of training. Not only that, he says, but Six Sigma errs by making a single"expert" accountable for a project's success or failure.