Friction departments, like quality and compliance teams, are often seen to be nothing more than inhibitors to innovation.

This makes sense, given that friction departments are in place to protect the company from unnecessary risks. Often, innovative ideas come with a lot of risk, and so these teams may be reluctant to allow them to move forward.

However, another often overlooked practice of the traditional friction department is to drive business value, aligning with the goals and objectives of the business. To drive the business’ value, innovation is absolutely key.

So, how do you ensure your friction teams are really enabling teams? At a recent Innov8rs Connect event, Erwin De Beuckelaer & Claire Kingston, both working in Quality within Johnson & Johnson, shared their suggestions.


Seeing Friction Teams as Partners

Fundamentally, it all starts with the understanding that you should see friction departments as partners for innovation. Forming true partnerships with these teams involves understanding how their view on ideas forms, and how you can ensure your innovative ideas fit with their ideas of low risk and high value.

Customer Centricity vs Compliance

You can do this easily by looking at customer centricity and compliance. If you’re highly customer centric and put a strong focus on making things better for your customers, you inherently generate a lot of risk. While an idea might be great for the customer, it might not be great for your budget or other financial metrics.

It’s easy for those with amazing ideas to just see the idea for what it is: an amazing idea, perhaps even something revolutionary. But if it’s truly revolutionary, and really something that can benefit a lot of people, there’s naturally going to be a lot of risk associated with it. These ideas are therefore tough to work with from a friction department’s point of view, as Erwin shares in this snippet.

When the Process Is Too Slow

If you're too heavy on the compliance side of things, you can end up leaving end-user needs unmet. Processing compliance-heavy ideas is often a slow process too. If you’re constantly trying to tweak every aspect of the quality control side, your competitors might end up beating you to it.

If you’re low on both customer centricity and low on compliance, then your idea is probably not going to be worth considering. Even if it sounds amazing, if it doesn’t help the customer and also comes with lots of uncertainty, your friction departments aren’t going to enjoy looking at it.

Therefore, there’s a balance to strike, as you really want both compliance and customer centricity.

Dilemma Reconciliation

This is where dilemma reconciliation comes in. Dealing with dilemmas without leading to weak compromises is the key to forming true partnerships within your friction departments and your wider teams, and to ensure your teams have the power to innovate effectively.

Doing this requires careful organization of your teams. You must integrate your quality and control departments within the business. They need to be able to directly support those that need help with their ideas. With some teams already fairly distanced from these departments, increasing that distance will only make things harder.

What are some strategies to ensure you form these partnerships effectively?

Strategies for Forming True Partnerships

Look for Allies

The key to forming partnerships with any team is looking at them as allies, and not as enemies. Finding people with a common goal, in this case growing the business through innovation, will make it far easier to work together to bring your ideas to fruition.

Involve Friction Departments Early

If you have an idea that is particularly disruptive, you need to involve friction teams as early as possible. These kinds of ideas usually need special attention from a compliance point of view, and if you leave people out at the start, it will just cost you more time in the end. It could potentially cost the entire future of the idea as well.

Be Smart When There’s a Crisis

Use the external environment as a tool and use crises as catalysts. Some of the best ideas come out of high-pressure situations, you need fast solutions to combat widespread problems.

Reframe and Experiment

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your ideas. If something doesn’t resonate with your friction departments at first, consider reframing the idea in a different way. Trial and error is a valuable process in these cases, provided you don’t just waste time and resources.

Focus on Jobs to Be Done

Put a focus on the desired outcome of your idea. Ask what the jobs to be done are, and test your assumptions to reduce the level of uncertainty. Friction departments hate risk and uncertainty, so reducing it from the start is the way to go.

Besides forming partnerships, it also helps to understand how innovation works within your friction departments.

Innovating Within a Friction Department

Innovating within a friction department might sound like a bit of a contradiction to those that have had bad experiences with compliance and quality control teams in the past. However, these teams have their own approaches to innovation, and understanding how they work can help you when preparing your own innovative ideas for success. In this snippet, Claire outlines the approach they are taking.

Falling in Love with the Problem

A big part of innovation within a friction department is falling in love with the problem, and not the solution. Falling in love with the problem immerses your entire being within it, understanding it on a deeper level, and not becoming susceptible to confirmation bias when it comes to trying to find the right solution, just because you like the way one solution works.

A Team Effort

Innovation is a team effort, and different innovators need different tools to work effectively. For example, some people need lots of one-on-one coaching, and others need sponsorship and resources as motivation.

So called “innovation backpacks” are a unique way to instill innovation within your teams, giving them specific tools to help them come up with ideas and move them forward.

Educating and Developing

But giving people lots of tools and instructions isn’t the be all and end all. They still need partners. Friction departments need to educate and develop innovators to increase their awareness about quality and develop their business acumen. The key part here is to develop the innovators themselves, and not just their ideas.

Friction departments therefore often think of both the return on learning and the return on investment. From the idea growth stage, through stage gate review and all the way to project execution, friction departments are looking at cost avoidance versus sheer return on investment.

Create Test and Learn Environments

Asking what the risks and dependencies on the path to execution are, and making sure the concept can work, ensures the team is always solving the right problems. By creating a test and learn environment, and providing funding, resources and project plans, friction departments nurture innovation also within their own teams.

In many ways, friction departments like quality add a lot to your innovation efforts. Think of due diligence, portfolio risk management and risk-based auditing. Using data and advanced analytics, friction departments can surface things that might not have been seen otherwise.

Managing risk throughout the innovation journey reduces the fear factor and limits uncertainties. For the best possible outcome turn your friction departments into enablers of innovation.