Innovation is Free


Quality is free

Having worked for the past 11 years on IT quality management (Implementing CMMi, People CMM, ISO, PMBok) out of the 16 years in the industry, I have convinced myself about the truth in the book "Quality is Free" by Philip B. Crosby. In that book, the author emphasizes that doing things right the first time adds nothing to the cost of a product or service. What costs, and costs seriously in terms of rework, test, warranty, inspection, and service after service, is doing things wrong.

It can also be explained as "efforts spent in building quality in the process and implementing the same (by establishing a quality management system, training on QMS, audit, continual improvement etc.) pays for itself many times through savings on rework and repeat orders from satisfied customers, that you can say quality in itself is free ". Now going to my proposition …

The Proposal

Inspired by this experience, as we move into the innovation revolution, I am seeing that the investment we make on setting up the culture and environment, where new ideas are welcomed and mistakes are allowed in experimenting with them, will pay for itself exponentially. ROI on innovation management will be even higher than ROI on quality management. So my proposition is that "Managing Innovation is mandatory for managing the changing customer needs and survival. But that investment will also pay for itself through customer delight and exponential growth in the global market – So you can say Innovation is free."

This may not be as intuitive as "Quality is Free" today. But my effort to engage you in this conversation can be a beginning to get there. There are costs involved in choosing the right innovations, design, development and marketing. But if Total Quality Management concepts are embedded in an organization, just by providing a scheme and structure for innovation management, we can increase the chances of innovative solutions leading to customer delight and improved business results today and tomorrow.

I am sure when Philip Crosby said, "Quality is free", people would have wondered how it can be. They would have confused quality with grade and said, "Better quality products are always costly." Or they would have confused quality with goodness and said, "Not everyone can produce good quality. There are good workers and sloppy ones." Crosby defined quality as conformity to certain specifications set forth by management and not some vague concept of "goodness." These specifications are not arbitrary either; they must be set according to customer needs and wants. Now we all agree that everyone can acquire knowledge, skills and process abilities based on his / her strengths and produce quality work.

Similarly "innovation is free" will raise doubts like "Can innovation be institutionalized?" "Can creativity be taught?" etc. Let me proffer a definition for "Organizational Innovation". OI is a novel idea that better meets customer's requirement today and tomorrow and makes business sense in the organization's context to implement, based on pilot results and actually brings the business benefits. "With that definition, we will see how IM can be implemented at organizational level.

Innovation Management System

Do we need an IMS then? Yes of course. IM policy should clarify that the organization believes that every one can innovate in spite of their level in the organization and the needed support will be provided. The key to innovation is in asking the right questions rather than finding the correct answers. Some times the question is the innovation! Finding an answer to that question may follow a systematic approach. The IM procedures should give guidance on how to ask the right questions and find the viable answer through pilots. In the end, if the innovation can be deployed across the organization, it should be done through the QMS. There should be links to IM assets and mentors who can ignite minds to innovate.

QMS and quality control can not be compromised for Organizational Innovation Deployment. Otherwise new products and services may meet changes to requirement but will stop meeting the original requirements.

Training and orientation

Training for innovation can be more effective through mentoring and coaching. Books, videos etc from powerful speakers can kindle the fire. Do not forget MS Academy workshops.


Audits typically focus on non-conformances and defects and so do not apply to innovation management. Instead as part of coaching, the coach can ask the innovator to create a review review checklist and use that to measure progress. How about measurement and rewards and so on?


Measurement should be tied to ROI and not just the number of innovations.

Culture and environment

Transparency, flexibility, empowerment, collaboration with customer and management focus are all necessary to set up a repeatable, sustainable innovation culture in the organization.

Rewards and recognition

Since we have defined OI as linked to business results, it automatically follows that the innovators, the coaches as well as the innovation evangelists should be rewarded and recognized. But all of them are in the game for the satisfaction of seeing their idea put to work and not for the money. So do not worry – Innovation will remain free.

About the author

Citystudio Bucuresti

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