Quality and Innovation Management

  • Articles
  • Dec 06,22
Is there a link between quality and innovation? If you ask Toyota, the answer would appear to be a big YES, says R Jayaraman.
Quality and Innovation Management

The term ‘Innovation Management’ might seem like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, if ever there was one. How can anyone ‘manage’ something thought to be spontaneous, sometimes serendipitous, sometimes inspired, and sometimes, plain lucky. But, to no one’s surprise, in an organisational context, like everything else, innovation also needs to be managed. The word innovation has been defined as the ‘process of innovating’ – and this is from the Oxford dictionary. Says Merriam Webster: a new idea, method, or device: NOVELTY, the introduction of something new. This is more satisfactory. And then, not unexpectedly, it goes on to distinguish between innovation and invention as: Innovation, for its part, can refer to something new or to a change made to an existing product, idea, or field. One might say that the first telephone was an invention, the first cellular telephone either an invention or an innovation, and the first smartphone an innovation. 

In one of his classes, Dr Keith Bezant Niblett, of Michigan State University, explained to me that for an invention to really take hold and become a commercial success, it should get ‘socialised’. And the invention of the telephone got socialised by many innovations. Same is the case with electricity, steam power and so on. Innovation is a powerful driver of creating something new, often at a low cost and high speed, as compared with inventions. In modern times, after so much of scientific advancements in every field, inventions are now not as important commercially, innovations can deliver a lot. Take the case of the Internet of Things (IOT). The ways of using IOT have exploded over the years, especially with the advent of ‘Cloud computing’, a great innovation. Myriad ways of using IOT have evolved since the Internet came into being. The electric car, TESLA, is a great innovation, a game changer, which is trying to change the way automobiles have been designed and driven. It is an excellent example of how ‘socialising’ the innovation can lead to commercial success. 



Is there a link between quality and innovation? If you ask Toyota, the answer would appear to be a big YES. Many years back, when innovation was in its infancy, Toyota would ask select new recruits and other employees to work in ‘innovation rooms’, where they were authorised to innovate on behalf of the company. Their main job was to ‘innovate’. Since Toyota was the one which introduced TQM to the world of industry, it was but natural that innovation became a part of TQM. It was ‘managed’ like any other quality initiative. While companies like 3M, Raytheon, GE, and many others, developed innovations through their new products and processes development departments, another approach was taken by companies practicing TQM and Business Excellence (BE). In these companies, it was decided to make innovation happen as a part of the continuous improvement movement. Many kaizens were taken up for innovations. Innovation was ‘processised’. 

Dr Govindarajan and Chris Trimble argue that innovation is more successful if done as a team activity, managed like any other team activity. The logic here is that innovations typically use the existing work base in companies and ‘innovate’ to create something new. However, after this, the innovation has to be commercialised, which means, it must be put through the new product or the new process development departments, which is a routine company activity. In ither words, it must be ‘socialised’ through the channels already existing in companies. However, Hewlett Packard did have ‘skunk networks’ which were quite unique in the way they operated. They were given a big leeway in operating in a company, and, their work was under the lens of the top management. It was a concept which was an outcome of the ‘intrapreneur’ era, when companies were looking for high growth from new ideas. Skunk networks, intrapreneurs groups within companies, described in the book ‘In Search of Excellence’, are all early efforts at popularising innovations. But the real benefits from innovations started flowing through only when it became a part of continuous improvement. 

Innovations are conducive to group activities, as inputs are needed to flower the main idea, which is the germ, or the nucleus. The ‘seeds’ of innovation need inputs from experts from different fields, with a knowledge of improvement methods (like old and new quality circle tools, six sigma tools, QFD tools, lean management tools), for commercial fruition and success. GE Healthcare has many stories how, under the guidance of Jeffrey Immelt, innovations were supported in developing countries, so that, commercial success can be faster and more remunerative. Innovation at home (meaning, the US) was often expensive, and did not meet the needs of developing countries. 



In the Tata Group, Ratan Tata played a key role in promoting innovations across the group. Supported by the (late) Dr Jamshed Irani and Mr. R. Gopalakrishnan, ED, Tata Sons (formerly), they made innovations a part of the continuous improvement movement through the TBEM – the Tata Business Excellence Model- which was run in all Tata companies, if they wanted to use the Tata logo. The Tata Group Innovations Forum (TGIF) was formed to deliver new business ideas through innovations. This worked so well, that many new departments, new investments, new companies were all nucleated. At a later stage, ‘Learning from Failures’ was also included, to promote innovations, as, many employees were not too willing to get into the innovation pipeline, fearing failures, and the consequent censure. With the ‘Learning from Failure’ movement, the lingo changed to: one may fail, but don’t repeat the same failure. Learn form it, profit from the learning and build on the failures. This propelled many sceptics, and innovations were given a boost. The same type of a process was adopted in the Aditya Birla Group, as well as the Mahindra Group, to promote innovations. Many Indian companies, like the TVS group, NTPC, BPCL, BHEL recognised that innovations must be done ‘scientifically’, that is, in a ‘managed’ manner, and the ideal way was to bring it under the umbrella of ‘continuous improvement’. It is evident that the efforts of many of the Indian companies have paid off handsomely, and will continue to be so in the future. 


About the author:
R Jayaraman is the Head, Capstone Projects, at Bhavan's S P Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR). He has worked in several capacities, including Tata Steel, for over 30 years. He has authored over 60 papers in academic and techno economic journals in India and abroad. Jayaraman is a qualified and trained Malcolm Baldrige and EFQM Business Model Lead Assessor.

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