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, especially in cases where human resources are tight but time is not. By contrast, symphonies start with some multiple themes deployed differently in different areas. The program doesn’t have to be the same everywhere, as long the themes and their relationships and well planned. The key for a symphonic deployment is that it requires excellent planning and coordination throughout.

Of all my previous blog posts, these alone garnered no comments whatsoever. But what is blogging for, if not to air thoughts that might be interesting to me and no one else? With that in mind, it’s time for the third (and possibly most esoteric) topic in this series: the tone poem as a model for deployment.

With respect to the amount of structure involved, tone poems are at the other end of the spectrum from fugues. In short, there are no rules. There might be one movement, there might be many. Tone poems can have one single theme, a few, or many. Some of these themes can exist in isolation and may be played only by one instrument group. Other themes interact, overlap, and play off one another. Some tone poems are completely original, while others quote freely from other sources in whole or in part. Some are harmonious and pleasing to the ear, while others are random and cacophonous.

The problem with this method of deployment is the same as the problem with tone poems: the outcome is different every time. Actually, that’s not a problem in the world of music at all; creating and driving that variety is the point of the form, and the fact that I might hate the outcome while you might love it is one of the joys of musical expression. But in the world of Six Sigma deployment, we’re faced with the reality that to some extent, our target audience has to love it.

This isn’t to say that any one of these three strategies is inherently good or bad. Rather that one is generally more appropriate than others based on circumstances. The problem is when the wrong choice is made, or worse, no choice is made at all and we default to some version of the tone poem.

Although it’s probably not intentional, most Six Sigma deployments share a lot of characteristics with tone poems. In my experience, it’s easily the most common of the three strategies discussed here. Part of this has to do with the inability of large organizations to formulate complicated plans and then keep the faith long enough to focus and execute those plans over years. Part of it has to do with our desire to emulate the deployments of others, quote from other sources, even though our organizations are different in every respect. And part of it certainly has to do with the fact that most deployments are designed by large groups rather than individuals.

Faced with these real-world difficulties, a lot of deployment champions choose the unstructured tone poem rather than something more structured like a fugue or symphony. And for a composer that is both brilliant and empowered, the tone poem can be a beautiful this. But say what you want about the limited creativity allowed in a fugue, if you follow the basic rules you end up with something that is a recognizable fugue even if you make some major blunders along the way. Ditto for a symphony. In contrast, tone poems and deployments based on the form can end up being a jumble of noise if the composer isn’t careful or talented. To put it another way, the structure and framework actually adds robustness to the deployment, just like it does to the musical form. Unless we’re brilliant, we ought to go for the structure.

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