About half of our innovation consulting projects deal with process innovation. In these projects we are typically challenged with specific problems in the production process, waste stream validation or the need to increase overall process efficiency. Although we work across all sectors & industries it is striking to see that most companies have three pitfalls in common.
Due to the confidential nature of our projects, the examples have been taken from comparable challenges.
1. Historical solutions are taken for granted
When problems appear in production processes they are often solved in an incremental way. Each time a problem is detected, small modifications are made. These modifications can usually be implemented fast, resulting in a limited amount of downtime. Sounds great, right?
Problem is that after some time a tipping point is reached where these minor adaptations are not good enough to solve the problems at hand. At this point it takes guts to rethink the process completely and start from scratch. We are very familiar with the following quote: We have always done it like this, but we honestly don’t know why.
Although this insight – switching the orientation of the reactor – sounds simple, it is difficult to challenge dominant logic. In process innovation it is key to ask: “Why?”
2. You only look for solutions within your industry
To solve challenges companies usually look at competitors and stay within the boundaries of their sector: “How have our competitors solved the problem? We should try it as well.“ It is clear that this limits your options to what is known in your industry.
As stated above, we work across different industries. Therefore we have experienced that several companies actually face similar challenges for their specific processes. Some generic challenges we encounter often are about cutting, mixing, sorting, heating, expanding, etc. Companies should map existing solutions and link them to their needs, even if this means covering new grounds.
3. The starting point obstructs the outcome
Defining the scope is the most important part of solving a problem; it is the parameter with an immediate consequence on the problem solving process. Problem solving projects are often based on the following quote: “We have to solve this problem by 2015.” Changing health & environmental regulations, dependence of raw material prices and loss of waste streams are frequent triggers for process innovation. In these challenges it often comes down to preventing the occurrence of the problem instead of trying to solve it. Take a step back and try to zoom outof the problem.
As an outsider it is often more easy to spot these pitfalls. By combining an
external view on the industry specific knowledge of our customers, we are able to initiate long-term solutions.