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Markus Henrich Tool Mania - Innovation Quality Part 5
Quality tools or quality systems applied to innovation environments are frequently reported to have a catastrophic impact. Strangling creativity, tying researchers up in a corset of rules, wasting resources on filling pointless forms. All in all, a waste of time which would be much better invested in innovation activities. Even worse, at the end of the process there is usually no real benefit for the company, no economic value. Most of the time there seems to be no way for quality activities and innovation processes to co-exist in any fruitful way. One reason for this depressing outcome might be the confusion of quality tools and quality concepts.
Quality Tools and Quality Concepts
A lot of quality tools, such as SOP Systems or Change Control Systems, originate in regulatory requirements. As a result, they tend to be very resource demanding and display a poor tolerability towards procedural flexibility. Focusing on critical process steps, aiming to prevent errors and process mistakes, quality tools are extremely process oriented, highly formalised, highly standardised and usually environment specific. In short, quality tools tend to be rather rigid corsets and do not fit well to the requirements of an innovation process.
Quality concepts on the other hand, even so aiming at prevention of low process performance as well, are less rigid and might be seen as the essence of a given quality tool. Quality concepts are not environment specific, not necessarily standardised and formalised and – if applied smartly – not necessarily a drain on resources. Quality concepts fit to the requirements of an innovation process and are both relevant and necessary.
Innovation Unit’s Tool Mania
When confronted with quality tools, innovation units usually tick off a long list of “not applicable” arguments. Most of the buzzwords on this list are based on hearsay since innovation units cherish their ignorance on finer details of formalised quality. Consequently, the tool is rejected – which must not be a bad idea - but the underlying concept is rejected as well – which is definitely a bad idea. Since most quality concepts apply to innovation as well, rejection due to tool mania easily leads to low performance of innovation processes.
Quality Unit’s Tool Mania
The first choice of any quality unit tasked with innovation quality is the transfer of existing tools, e.g. from the manufacturing area, since the tools are known to perform, and the transfer seems easy and cost efficient. From the quality unit’s perspective, the implementation of the tool is perceived as a value as such and sadly this view is frequently shared by management. Moving on, the quality unit leaves in its wake an innovation unit burdened with rule sets which are neither relevant nor feasible for daily operations. This kind of tool mania is a critical drain on resources and seriously impedes innovation.
Tools versus Concepts – An Example
Equipment qualification done by manufacturing units tends to be a complex and resource demanding process, going through up to four consecutive qualification steps (DQ-IQ-OQ-PQ), nicely mixed with intermittent acceptance tests (FAT, SAT). Obviously, this process is a bit over the top of the requirements and possibilities of innovation units.
The quality concept however is highly applicable for innovation processes – equipment performance needs to match process requirements. And using this concept in an innovation environment is certainly feasible, since it just needs three steps, two of which should be done anyway, regardless of the qualification topic. First, the requirements of the innovation process need to be defined, e.g. in terms of accuracy, repeatability or robustness of results supposed to trigger process decisions and further innovation investments. Second, these requirements need to be linked to equipment output(s). Both steps should be an essential part of any innovation strategy since they prevent resource waste and low performance.
The only extra step of the “performance meets requirements” concept is a targeted performance check of equipment parameters relevant for equipment output. This targeted check can be done quick, e.g. via a black-box approach, and dirty, e.g. by just scribbling down the overall result in an equipment logbook instead of filling complex forms.
How to do
Applying quality concepts to real life is rather simple. Existing quality tools like SOP Systems, Qualification Systems or Change Control Systems can be used as an inspiration, a warehouse of ideas to select from. From there on, the underlying concept of these tools is identified and assessed with regard to the relevance for a given innovation process.
Those concepts being relevant should be implemented in a quick, dirty and cheap manner. Quick by going ahead without entering lengthy fundamental discussions. Dirty by avoiding investment of resources in unnecessary formalism or the beauty of documents. And cheap by preventing waste through always keeping the workload of future daily operations in mind.
More to the topic with a special emphasis on avoiding quality technocracy in one of the next issues.
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Markus Henrich Ask “Why and “What” - Innovation Quality Part 4
Quality activities in innovation environments are frequently reported to seriously mess up innovation performance. After lengthy and heated discussions, quality systems without any economic value but with a serious negative impact on innovation performance are installed, permanently impeding innovation processes by wasting resources on the pointless creation of written documents or their electronic equivalents. On closer look many of the poorly performing innovation quality systems have one thing in common – a strong focus on “How” topics.
How many forms to fill, how often to fill them, how many signatures per form and so on. These “How” topics are the trademark of regulated quality environments such as pharma manufacturing, where “How to do” is discussed in detail and on a regular basis. Discussing “Why” (“Why invest in quality at all?”) or “What” (“What kind of quality is our objective?”) would be pointless since both topics are taken defined by laws, guidelines and the regulatory bodies.
The situation is a bit different in the innovation field, since quality topics are hardly regulated from the outside. Asking “Why” or “What” is not only allowed, in many cases asking those questions right from the beginning is the smart option for companies. Oddly enough this freedom is not always exploited.
Contagious How Question
This “How” focus of regulated business fields tends to be contagious when innovation units and established quality units come into contact. In the discussions that will eventually lead to an innovation quality system, the representatives of the innovation unit frequently participate with low enthusiasm, being ill prepared for the upcoming quality show-down. The representatives of the existing quality unit on the other hand, bring along their extensive experience in regulated quality, being conditioned by this background never to ask “Why” or “What” when quality is concerned.
The final result is frequently a “How” focused innovation quality system, coming into being after weeks of heated “How often” or “How many” discussions. Given the way it was created, the total lack of economic value should not come as a surprise. Even worse, a huge opportunity is missed, since “Why” and “What” questions are not only allowed when dealing with innovation quality, it makes a lot of sense to ask them right from the beginning.
Management Failure
Innovation Unit’s lack of preparation and Quality Unit’s single minded “How” focus are not alone to blame, company management is guilty as well. Asking “Why” (“Why invest in innovation quality at all?”) defines to a certain degree the risk level associated with innovation processes. Asking “What” (“What kind of innovation quality is our objective?”) on the other hand defines to a large degree the amount of resources to be invested in quality.
In most companies, decisions on risks to take and resources to invest are the strictly guarded domain of upper management, far beyond the decision competence of the average project team dealing with innovation quality. As long as clear and reliable risk and investment decisions from management are missing, teams will have to focus on “How”, the only question within their decision competence. Missing management guidance turns innovation quality into a “How” focused exercise that wastes resources, impedes innovation and lacks economic value.
Of course, management is not supposed to address any details which would be quite often beyond their technical competence. However, a clear management commitment and a rational for innovation quality is required as a rule set for those working on the details later on.
A Why Definition
Innovation requires periodic management decisions like resources to invest, projects to pursue, projects to terminate and so on. Management demands a reliable and resilient decision basis to avoid low performance and waste of resources due to wrong decisions taken on account of unreliable data.
A What Definition
Innovation investments are triggered and guided by ranking all available innovation candidates. Innovation results needs to be precise enough and reliable enough to allow a consistent ranking. All innovation quality activities aiming at precision and reliability have therefore the highest priority.
The Benefit of What and Why
Most important, asking “Why” and “What” reduces the resource demand of innovation quality systems, since the number of conceivable quality topics can be significantly reduced by smart application of why- and what-filters. Only topics that are important for the innovation process in question will be installed, ideally in a quick and cheap manner.
Quick and cheap is best done by avoiding Tool Mania. More to that in one of the next issues.
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