Integrating ‘Innovation’ with Lean & Six Sigma


There comes a stage when improvement does not work and it is time to innovate, says Prashant Joglekar, making a case for doing ‘things differently’ or ‘try out different things’.

  • Client

    Breakthrough Management Group International (BMGI)

  • Services

    To drive and sustain growth in particular timeline.

  • Technologies

    Lean & Six Sigma

  • Dates




Breakthrough methodologies are like ‘Narayan Avatars’, their incarnation depends a lot on the ‘challenges’ that business world is facing at a particular point in time. These methodologies almost become way of life for organisations to drive and sustain growth in that particular timeline. 


Lean was evolved by Toyota to eliminate all types of wastes, improve lead times of its products, standardise work and achieve perfection with all that they do. It was slowly adopted (at least obeyed in letter, if not by all in spirit) by automotive industry. The world started taking note of Lean and has rolled out their own versions of implementation.


Six Sigma likewise was first pioneered by Motorola for achieving quality to a Six Sigma level of electronic products it manufactured. It was widely advocated by a great business leader like Jack Welch. Welch had institutionalised Six Sigma into GE way of doing things to ensure high quality standards for its products and processes, so much so that Six Sigma and GE became synonymous.


World has moved since then, Immelt who succeeded Jack Welch in 2000 looked for new platforms and processes fuelled by innovation to achieve next level of growth. He didn’t lose focus on Six Sigma but added a dimension of Lean to it, to ensure their existing initiatives paid their next phase of growth through innovative productivity improvement.


‘Systematic Innovation Methodologies’ – a new avatar in the age of Industry 4.0 

Six Sigma focused on its classic DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyse-Improve-Control) methodology to improve products and process attributes with an aim to reduce variation. Six Sigma is ‘data driven’ methodology, it thrives on the data. Now if a team working on the problem has all the data (lucky fellows) of the outputs that they want to improve and further have all the relevant input data that might be affecting the output, then with the help of statistical tools the team may able to infer the relationships between input and output and figure out how to further improve or optimise inputs. 


Many times, data gathering is a great challenge before the teams, if they are able to overcome this hurdle the second hurdle that stands in their way is its accuracy. Lot of time goes in both these activities before the teams move on to improvement stage. Teams are thoroughly exhausted by this time. Many times, what you are trying to do is to optimise things that have been already optimised and refused to get optimised any further. If teams still get it right the next thing they are tasked with is to move on to ‘Improve’ phase. This ‘I’ or improve phase many times relies on classical quality tools and existing experience of individuals. Without knowledge of ‘specific idea generation’ and ‘innovation tools’ many times the ideas that are generated are ‘me too’ ideas or fail to improve the situation significantly. Teams sometimes also realise what they have achieved by data crunching could have been done without it. That’s sad part of the whole story.


The strategy for improvement at this stage is then to look at the challenges qualitatively, if need be, redefining them once again. Next steps is then to identify challenges/contradictions and try and innovate solutions by which teams can do ‘things differently’ or ‘try out different things’ (experimentation).


So, remember the “I” in DMAIC going forward is not ‘improve’ but ‘innovate’. I want to caution you here: Some might sway you away from innovating, telling you it is a long-drawn process but let me tell you from my own experience that it is not, in fact it could be otherwise. (My article on a brief overview of ‘Innovation Tools’:


Lean on the other hand strives for perfection eliminating all the wastes, its relatively easier to spot the waste, what’s more difficult is to tackle challenges when you realise ‘we can’t eliminate waste because something A, B, C stops us from doing it.’ To tackle these kinds of contradictions we use ‘contradiction elimination’ tools of innovation tool kit. Implementing ideas thus generated moves us towards perfection ‘an essential goal’ of Lean. (My take on Integration of Lean & Innovation: 


‘Structured Innovation’ needs to fuel your excellence journey, without which your organisation will not able to move to the next orbit of growth and profitability.


Prashant Joglekar

He is the Principal Consultant, Breakthrough Management Group International (BMGI). Prashant has done his masters from IIT, Mumbai. He has more than 26 years of experience working with senior leadership of organizations implementing innovative solutions in the area of product development, manufacturing and business process re engineering across different industry verticals like electrical engineering, automobile, petrol-chemicals and mining and metals. He has worked with clients to reinvent and resolve critical operational challenges in operational functions. Email: