Creating Value for the Customer

Aspirations Concept

When I tell people that I do “innovation” at Catalysis I usually get some puzzled looks. This is often followed by questions like, “what is that?” or “what exactly do you do?” I don’t blame them, “innovation” has become a buzzword with a variety of meanings depending on who you ask. I want to explain what the term means at Catalysis, how it relates to process improvement, and share what I have learned over the past year and a half while following an innovative design process.

Innovation and process improvement exist for the same purpose; to create value for the customer or patient. Process improvement efforts focus on removing waste from current processes and reduce or eliminate defects. Innovation strives to add value by creating new products or services based on the needs of the customers. 

There are many other similarities between innovation and improvement, including:

Use of Scientific Problem Solving

Both the innovation process and continuous improvement using lean methodology utilize scientific problem solving, or A3 thinking. They follow the plan, do, study, and adjust sequence. Both customer-focused business activities rely on data to make decisions.

Use of Visual Management

As I was going through the innovation process for the first time, it struck me how much we relied on making things visual. We made all of our research and thinking visual so we could show and teach senior leaders what we were finding. This also helped us to see our findings from a different angle and think through the process of developing a new product or service. With continuous improvement it is important to make things visual as well. You can’t solve a problem that you can’t see.

Use of Rapid Experimentation

Both the innovation process and continuous improvement use the concept of rapid experimentation – the fail fast approach. It is important to test our assumptions behind a new product or service (in the case of innovation); or a countermeasure in the case of continuous improvement. We do not want to waste time on something that doesn’t meet customer needs or is not solving the problem at hand.

While I noticed similarities between the thinking, visual management, and rapid experimentation needed with both innovation and improvement; I also observed some major differences.  Some of the differences that stood out to me were:

Learn and Diverge, Instead of Learn and Narrow Down

The innovative design process begins with the research and explore phase. This is probably my favorite part of the process. During this phase we work to remove biases by exploring the industry and environment, as well as the market. Activities look mainly outside of the organization. We completed customer interviews to get a detailed view of the customers’ perspective. The more we learned, the more we diverged into other areas and continued to learn more.

When I worked on an improvement team in a health system we also conducted research and gathered data for a rapid improvement event or an A3 that we were working on, but we mainly focused inside the organization. We gathered the voice of the customer and sought input from patients; however, this was often limited to the particular problem at hand. In the improvement process the focus tends to be more on narrowing down the root cause rather than diverging into new areas.

Create Something New, Instead of Creating a Better Way

One important distinction between innovation and improvement work is that the purpose of innovation is to create something new. It is about looking at customer needs that are not being met or that customers don’t even realize they have.

Continuous improvement looks to create a better way to do current processes that can make them more efficient and reliable.

I believe that organizations need both innovation and continuous improvement. Innovation is important to help the organization evolve and differentiate themselves within the marketplace, while continuous improvement is important to sustain business growth, improve customer experience, and engage staff. Once an organization has become stable or has removed as much waste as possible from processes, that is when it is time to look at innovation. Innovation will help create new processes and then continuous improvement takes over. This is a cycle for success in any business; but especially the ever-changing healthcare environment.


Heidi Betzinger, Innovation & Project Manager



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