During our recent webinar, one of the messages was ” Innovation is everyone’s responsibility – not just R&D’s”. As I was reflecting on this, during post-webinar conversations with few of the acquaintances, we certainly had number of different perspectives coming out on what is really idea centric collaboration and is it something organizations can/will subscribe to.
It is during some of these conversations, I went back down the memory lane when I had just finished my engineering and joined one of the respected companies in the engineering goods industry.
As a trainee engineer, just out of college; we had lot of energy and enthusiasm to apply what we learned at school in real life. Though, what we had in front of us was something different. We were never taught about a Product Development Process or Total Quality Management( TQM) philosophy during our engineering education. It was a fascinating experience to get into one of the TQM projects at the start of career. The objective was to identify the root cause of specific defects reported by customers and come out with solutions.
TQM philosophy’s core foundation was data collection, Pareto analysis, cause and effect diagrams, brainstorming. It was also important to have a cross-functional product teams where there is representation from all stakeholders like, engineering, manufacturing, procurement, accounts, sales & service, marketing etc. one of the routines during a TQM project used to be that the cross functional team assembles every morning on the shop-floor and review the customer complaints received in last 24 hours.
After repeated customer complaints about calibration issues of some of the gauges on oil tanks; this was taken up as a project to come up with a permanent solution.
After data collection, Pareto analysis and fishbone diagrams, we came to conclusion that the corrosion on mounting rod was the primary reason for calibration issues of gauges. There wasn’t anything wrong with the gauges as such. Also, we had no control over the quality of oil customers will use.
During brainstorming phase, we were going round table so that everyone’s ideas can be captured. Engineers and metallurgists came out with variety of options like high grade steel or titanium to be used for the rod but then it would have had a significant cost impact. After listening to all, our accountant colleague started in his soft tone
He said something like, ” I am not an engineer or a science grad so bear with me. My motorcycle was broken last weekend and I took it to a mechanic. When the mechanic opened the cover of the petrol(gasoline) tank, I noticed the tank wasn’t a metal but rather some kind of fibre plastic. So my question is, if petrol can be contained in such material, why can’t we think of using similar material to dip into an oil tank for our equipment?”
This was an aha moment for all. This suddenly got everyone to look at non-metallic alternatives for our problem and eventually our team came out with some kind of polyethylene material for mounting the gauges as the solution to address this issue.
So the summary is, ideas do come from anywhere or even from where you least expect it to come from. What one needs is a cultural or systemic approach to tap into it. Collaboration and participative management was the TQM philosophy here that helped us achieve the results.
Fast forward 15 years and in today’s era with multi-cultural, multi-geography teams; this process of how we collaborate at workplace has undergone a huge change. One needs to focus on engaging users for a common objective and leverage the tools & techniques to efficiently capture, nurture and implement ideas to keep your innovation engine humming.
Ideas do come from where you expect it the least!
Posted in Idea Management