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1.5 Fundamentals of Inventing–Innovating a Product, Service, or Process



I’ll bet at some point in your life you had a great idea for a new product or service. All your friends agreed that it was a great idea. Well, that great idea was the beginning of the invention and innovation processes.

Lee Kaplowitz of Los Angeles had a great idea. His was to invent a litmus paper test for the presence of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee. Lee noticed that most decaffeinated coffee drinkers ask of the waitperson, "Is that decaf?" Lee had an inspiration that could lead to an invention and innovation.


Invention is the process of creating new products, services, or processes that are usable in accomplishing human objectives that were formerly difficult or impossible. The first club used by a caveman to kill animals to feed his family is an example of an invention.

Inventions and History

Some of the most significant inventions were created before recorded history; for example, crude tools, weapons, speech, cultivation of plants, domestication of animals, building techniques, production and control of fire, pottery, political systems, and the wheel. The period of recorded history began with the invention of cuneiform script by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia in about 3000 b.c.



Innovation is the process by which invention is put to use for the betterment of humanity. Thomas Edison was both an inventor (of the electric light bulb) and an innovator because he was critical to the electrification of New York City and the establishment of the General Electric Company.

Reasons for Innovation

Innovations are created for five reasons. They are discussed next.

  • Reason 1: Build competitive advantage in target markets, and increase market share by offering products, services, or processes that are preferred above those of competitors. Innovation offers an organization the opportunity to take a step ahead of its competitors for the customer’s positive attention and resources.
  • Reason 2: Increase profitability by introducing more profitable lines. Innovation aids organizations in creating products, services, and processes that yield higher profit margins than those of their competitors.
  • Reason 3: Build a reputation for technological excellence by introducing state-of-the-art products. Innovation provides an opportunity for organizations to enhance their image of being a provider who is on the frontier of their core discipline.
  • Reason 4: Counteract the effects of downsizing on stakeholders by creating new employment opportunities through upsizing [see Reference 7]. Downsizing is a term used to describe an organizational layoff policy whose purpose is to reduce costs. Upsizing is a term used to describe an organizational product creation focus whose purpose is to create new employment opportunities to mitigate the uncertainties caused by downsizing. Innovation provides an organization with the opportunity to create products, services, and processes, and hence, upsize.
  • Reason 5: Creating exportable products for developing countries. Frequently, developing countries experience great economic difficulties due to unstable governments, an uneducated work force, variable and poor quality raw materials, and rampant inflation. In the face of such unfavorable conditions for economic health, developing countries need to export products that enjoy a non-competitive marketplace. They need protection from industrialized countries that do not suffer from the same economic woes. This can be accomplished by creating, producing, and selling innovative products, services, and processes that enjoy the legal protection of patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

Eight Methods for Invention and Innovation

There are eight methods available for creating inventions and innovations.

  • Method 1: Exploit core technologies; for example, using excellence in electrical engineering and physics to create new electronic products.
  • Method 2: Capitalize on particularly excellent common operating elements; for example, using unusually excellent repair service or unusually short delivery times.
  • Method 3: Pray for an inspiration; for example, luckily thinking to put an eraser on the end of a pencil.
  • Method 4: Conduct scientific research; for example, studying computer science to develop a laptop computer.
  • Method 5: Use expertise in specialized functional areas; for example, using excellence in quality control to create dependability and reliability (e.g., McDonald’s or Marriott).
  • Method 6: Identify the unmet needs of known customers; for example, conducting market research to provide faster delivery time of office supplies or longer battery life for laptop computers.
  • Method 7: Study "lead users" to identify the unknown needs of customers. Lead users are consumers of a product, service, or process who are months or years ahead of regular users in their use of the item and who will benefit greatly by the innovation. For example, a lead user of a hair dryer may attach a portable battery pack and use it as a body warmer at football games played in cold weather. In this example, studying lead users resulted in the invention of a "personal body warmer."
  • Method 8: Study the unstated (or unknown) problems of existing users through observational studies. Ideas to surpass customers’ unknown needs and wants do not come from direct queries to customers, but rather from the manufacturer’s observations of the problems customers encounter while using products and services. An example of a product created using this method is a camera with automatic load [see Reference 8].

In 1974, the camera market was saturated with cameras that satisfied customers’ current needs; cameras were reliable, relatively inexpensive to use, and produced good pictures. This created a nightmare for the camera industry. Consequently, Konica decided to ask consumers: "What else would you like in a camera?" Consumers replied that they were satisfied with their cameras. Unfortunately, asking consumers what else they would like in a camera did not yield the information Konica needed to create a breakthrough. In response to this situation, Konica studied negatives at film-processing laboratories and discovered that the first few pictures on many rolls were overexposed, indicating that users had difficulty in loading film into the cameras. This presented an opportunity to innovate camera technology. The customer could not have been expected to think of this innovation. In response to this analysis, Konica developed the automatic-loading camera. This is an excellent example of the eighth method for innovating current products, services, or processes.

Simple Examples of the Invention and Innovation Process

All inventions and innovations do not have to be generated from complex, theoretical, and radical ideas. Sometimes, they come from the simplest of ideas. For example, whoever thought it was possible to create an improved corkscrew? Yet, in the last decade or two, a new corkscrew was invented. This corkscrew has wings or handles that allows the corkscrew to pull the cork out of the bottle.

Another example of a product that you might not think could be improved is the teabag. Surprise! Lipton invented a teabag with two strings that allow the user to squeeze the last drops of tea out of the bag without burning his or her fingers. Ingenious!

Design for Six Sigma (DFSS)

Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is the method used by a Six Sigma project team to invent and innovate products, services, and processes. DFSS can be used to design entirely new products, services, and processes, or major new features of existing products, services, or processes that are consistently reliable and able to be produced, delivered, or carried out and uniformly surpass customer requirements. Additionally, DFSS creates designs that are: (1) based on stakeholder needs and wants; (2) resource efficient; (3) minimal in complexity; (4) capable of generating high yields; (5) robust to process variations; and (6) quick to generate a profit.

An organization can reap many benefits from employing the DFSS methodology. The list of benefits includes: launching projects on time and on budget; reaping additional incremental revenues sooner; achieving greater market share; minimizing problems uncovered at launch; improving rolled throughput yield (RTY) significantly; ensuring quality and efficient production; and differentiating products, services, and processes due to a customer focus.

Fundamental Principles of "Design for Six Sigma"

DFSS is a method that embodies several principles. The first principle is for all areas within an organization to simultaneously design the product, service, and/or process to minimize future problems. The second principle is to design the product, service, and/or process to minimize variability in CTQs and maximize customer satisfaction. The third principle is to design a process capable of delivering the quantity and quality of products or services desired by customers in a timely fashion. The fourth principle is to include suppliers early in the design process. These four principles are the bedrock of the DFSS method.

Leverage from Professional Design Methods

Research has shown [see Reference 5] that 70% of the cost influence (or total cost) of a product or service (including warranty costs and insurance costs) incurred by a producer or supplier is due to poor design. This cost is largely avoidable if producers and suppliers would invest more resources into designing their products and services. In other words, if suppliers and producers would increase their actual cost expenditures in the design function, then their total costs would decrease. Table 1.2 shows the relationships between actual costs and total costs for the different components of products and services.

Table 1.2 Cost Comparisons


Actual Cost

Cost Influence (Total Cost)
















The DMADV Model for Invention and Innovation

The DMADV model is the Six Sigma method for innovating existing products, services, or processes; or for creating entirely new products, services, or processes. DMADV is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, and Verify/Validate.

The Define Phase of a Six Sigma DMADV project involves developing a business case with a project objective and establishing a schedule and guidelines for the design review process. The Measure Phase involves identifying the market segments for potential designs, developing critical parameters for high-level designs, developing targets and tolerances for the critical parameters, preparing design scorecards for the critical parameters, and reviewing intellectual property. The Analyze Phase involves generating high-level conceptual designs, evaluating the high-level conceptual designs, and selecting the best design. The Design Phase involves developing detailed designs. This requires that team members construct detailed specifications, schematics, and blueprints for processes, services, and products. Additionally, team members develop detailed designs for ancillary processes (i.e., Human Resources and Information Technology, to name a few). Finally, the Verify/Validate Phase involves conducting a pilot test of the detailed design; confirming the design outputs will yield product or service specifications; reviewing designs with respect to all potential users and possible uses, and, if necessary, improving designs; establishing appropriate control and monitoring systems to ensure designs meet and maintain goals throughout production or ongoing service life; and transferring the design to the process owner with a functioning control plan.

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