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Andrew Downard

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Swansong

Time are topsy-turvy, and change is in the air. My role has evolved away from Six Sigma over the past several months, and my readers – both of you – may have noticed I’ve been posting here less and less. This will be my last post. Thanks for all the comments and emails. It’s been…

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WWDD?

Perhaps you all arrived at this conclusion way ahead of me, but I’m starting to worry more and more about the way we, as continuous improvement professionals, are spending our time. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the world in general, and the economy in particular, has gone off meds. Yes, I know, this isn’t news…

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Act II

Six Sigma, which is beginning to acquire some grey around the temples, has now advanced to the stage where the basic requirements for success of the program are fairly well known. That doesn’t stop it from being screwed up in about 95% of installations, but no one can say that’s due to a lack of…

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Rigmarole

Six Sigma is an amazingly persistent program. I was left off the list for the official birth announcement, but someone should probably be planning ahead for a thirtieth birthday party in the next few years. That’s remarkable longevity for trumped up flavor-of-the-month program. I think Six Sigma is utterly absurd in many respects. Even if…

Thinking Ahead

One of the central problems all organizations face is balancing long term thinking with short terms needs. It is clear that time and resources need to be devoted to both; companies that live moment to moment don’t survive very long, while those that focus on the big picture without worrying about the details usually don’t…

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Being Right

There are countless business books out there that present good reasons why it is not necessary to be 100% right all the time. Beyond being unnecessary, I think being completely right is highly over-rated in the context of business. Being 80% right and good at executing is probably more than sufficient in most cases. Not…

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Cargo Cults

I can’t remember the first time I head the concept of a “Cargo Cult” used as a business analogy. But I can recall thinking that it was a powerful way to explain the dangers of throwing money and resources around trying to duplicate what another company had done without really taking the time to understand…

Innovation and Six Sigma

There has been a lot of ink spilled lately dithering about Six Sigma and Innovation. Most of it by naysayers who feel that Six Sigma is antithetical to Innovation, or zealots who feel some version of the opposite sentiment. For the life of me, I can’t wrap my mind around either position. To illustrate my…

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The Consultant Within

The state of the US economy notwithstanding, retention of talent is a major issue across many organizations these days. Operational Excellence, Six Sigma, and related disciplines are no exception, with a lot of the mobility fueled by the same high standards for training and certification that are intended to attract folks in the first place….

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A System Beyond Their Control

Deming proposed his famous “Red Bed” experiment more than half a century ago. These days, videos and descriptions circulate freely via the web, and there are many books and other publications that describe the experiment. But even for those who are familiar with its lessons, the applicability of the experiment and what it teaches are…

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Getting There From Here

It is the aim of most Continuous Improvement programs to transform the organization. Six Sigma usually attempts to do this in one of two ways: By taking top-down approach, wherein the end state of transformation is articulated and communicated by organizational leaders, and stages and activities of the transformation are painted only in very broad…

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Verisimilitude

I can save you the trouble of reading the blog entry below. I realize you are very busy. Here’s a summary: Communications in the business world rely heavily on PowerPoint-style summaries. At best, summaries omit crucial information and context present in the work being summarized. Without this context, conclusions have to be accepted on faith….

Organizing Concepts

A conversation I regularly get into involves discussion of the difficulties encountered when deploying Six Sigma in an environment that is already saturated with other programs and toolsets. A majority percentage of the time the discussion is about deploying Six Sigma in an area where Lean is already well established, but there are many other…

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To p Or Not To p

Let me end the suspense: not to p. At least for me. Also not to F. And not to t. I got thinking about this topic after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about “sloppy analysis” in scientific studies. That article is here, but you’ll have to pay to see it. However, the…

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Candy

Things that make you feel good in right away aren’t always beneficial in the long run. Some things, like candy, are actually harmful in the long term. While others, like getting the high score on Space Invaders, just don’t end up mattering very much. You feel good as they are happening, but beyond that they…

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For Example

If you do any sort of training, you’ve probably struggled to come up with good examples to drive a concept home. Nothing crystallizes difficult material like the perfect example to make it all real. Every train-the-trainer workshop you’ve ever been to has doubtless spent time worrying about this. And if you’ve ever been through the…

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Documentation Dilemma

“Dilemma” is term properly reserved to describe a situation in which we must choose between two more-or-less equally unpleasant alternatives. This pretty much sums up how most organizations feel about documentation for Six Sigma projects. On the one hand, there is always an organizational craving (note that I am specifically avoiding the term “need” here)…

VOC Gone Wild

It seems “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) is a label applied to almost any interaction between a business and a customer these days. Anything from direct interaction to the vaguest involvement along the periphery. Anything from highly structured, planned, and observed interactions to informal, anecdotal, and third-hand accounts. Some VOC is certainly useful. But more…

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The Next Next Big Thing

Six Sigma critics are right about one of their chief complaints: the program is a re-packaging of a lot of tools and ideas that have been around for a long time. Personally I don’t think that’s a bad thing, since many of the ideas that have been re-packaged were languishing before. Regardless of where the…

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Global Process? No Such Thing.

The first business process I ever put together was heavily indebted to Kevin Costner. If I build it, I figured, they will come. And I did build it. A perfect process, polished in every detail. A global process, that everyone involved would adopt. A useful process, that would solve many disparate problems in a foul…

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On Averages

(Or “On Arithmetic Means”, if you prefer.) I hardly need mention in this forum that as a standalone descriptive statistic, the average can be a dangerous piece of information. Averages quoted in the absence of other descriptive statistics are generally insufficient at best, and downright misleading at worst. I’ll skip the lecture on the importance…

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Off The Map

If you’ve read some of my previous blog entries, you’ll know I’m no fan of roadmaps. I used to think this was a radical proposition in the Six Sigma community. But more and more, when I talk to practitioners – the people on the ground who do the hands-on work of process improvement – I…

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Reports of Our Demise

Okay, okay. I know this has already been covered to death in other blogs and various discussion forums. But I am nonetheless compelled to offer my own take on the Wall Street Journal’s article concerning the departure of Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli. And more specifically on the comments within that article suggesting that this…

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Touching the Fire

We all want to get it right the first time. And a brief browse through the business section of any major bookstore, or even various sections of this website, will turn up hundreds of best practices and other bits of advice that promise to help us get it right the first time. Consultants would never…

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The Finish Line

I have been wrestling lately with the question of when a Six Sigma project should be considered “done”. From the perspective of the organization, it’s common to say that done means finished through the control phase or it’s equivalent, including process changes or other implemented solutions. From the financial perspective it’s tempting to say that…

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Deployment Music, Part 3

In my previous two posts, I talked about the fugue and the symphony as metaphors for Six Sigma deployment. A fugue is a musical form in which a single theme is repeated or imitated successively by different instruments until eventually the entire orchestra is involved. This strategy isn’t a bad one for Six Sigma deployment,…

Deployment Music, Part 2

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the fugue as a model for deployment. A fugue is a musical form in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices, until eventually the entire orchestra is playing the same tune. I suggested that this might not be a bad way…

Deployment Music, Part 1

One of my favorite pieces of music is Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” In it, Britten decomposes then reconstitutes a fugal work for orchestra based on a much older tune by Henry Purcell. The work is somewhat unusual in that at Britten’s request, a friend wrote narration that describes textually exactly…

Good Process, Bad Process

I was in New York City on a busy summer weekend not too long ago. Me and a whole lot of other tourists. In fact, it was the busiest I have ever seen the city in terms of tourists. Saturday night found me and my companions at one end of Times Square, fighting the crowds…

Part-time Help Wanted

In my opinion, one of the key questions to answer when planning a deployment is whether the Black Belt role should be full-time. While this sounds like a reasonable question to some, many experienced Six Sigma folks find it strange to even ask, because in the majority of programs the Black Belt role is automatically…

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Six Sigma Sucks

Over the past weeks and months I have become increasingly aware that there is a grouchy counter-Six Sigma-culture out there. As indisputable proof of this, a Google search on the phrase “Six Sigma sucks” returns no less than 111,000 hits. (See for yourself here.) Even discounting bitter G.I. Joe fans, this is a big number….

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Which Comes First: Process or Behavior?

Fixing or otherwise improving a process usually involves changing it in some way. For this reason, Six Sigma projects almost always involve some element of process engineering or re-engineering. On top of that, folks in deployment leader roles or similar are often tasked with developing brand new processes like project selection, candidate identification, certification, and…

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The Fundamental Questions

As I was scanning news this week, a couple of articles caught my eye. The first was a piece by Damon Darling in the New York Times about Farecast, an airfare search engine that aims to predict how much the price of an airline ticket will rise or fall before the flight actually occurs. Says…

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Whither Certification?

There’s a lot of talk about Six Sigma certification these days. I remember being asked by a talent acquisition manager at a previous employer what it meant to be a “certified” Master Black Belt. The question arose because a quick search on Google turned up programs ranging from 3 days (online) to 2 years in…

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Six Sigma Trends From Google

A while back I stumbled on a new part of the Google website called “Google Trends”. You can view this website for yourself here. In Google’s words, the website allows users to “compare the world’s interest in your favorite topics. Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched for on Google over…

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What We Ask Our Black Belts To Do

I am regularly asked what characterizes an ideal Black Belt candidate. Like most people in the field, I have a list of adjectives and descriptive phrases I can trot out at a moment’s notice. Mine comprises about 50 items under the following headings: 1) Aptitude For Change; 2) Education and Experience; 3) Intellectual Curiosity; 4)…

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What’s the Point of a Project?

In a perfect world, every project would lead directly to financial gain. We’d draft a charter that, when well executed, produced savings or income that translated directly to the bottom line. And this would be good because we all like making money. We can put it in the bank, earn interest on it, add many…

Six Sigma Beyond DMAIC

There is a strong tendency for Six Sigma programs to forge an inextricable link between project management roadmaps, notably DMAIC, and statistical tools. This has never made much sense to me. In my experience, Six Sigma programs can not only exist and survive without the use of typical roadmaps, but prosper and flourish. In the…

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