Notes from the deployment frontline 31 Aug 05

Having been raised 20 miles from salt water in Tampa, I am in love with warm and salty water and mesmerized by hurricanes. That said, I think we should all pause this week and think about what is really important.

Those of us that think our companies, our roles, or the role of Six Sigma are of the utmost importance are wrong. Take the time to say a prayer to your higher being in whatever form that takes and do something to benefit the folks in Louisiana and Mississippi if you can afford to.

Also go take the time to go look in the mirror, it is one of the most important diagnostic tools people and companies have (thank you Marty Rayl). It is also one of the least used.

I have been my role for a little over five months. The people who know me from my consulting life are baffled that I didn’t just come in a start waving the Lean and Six Sigma flags. After all, my title is Lean Six Sigma Executive. I have instead refused to be defined by the title and have spent most of my time and political capital looking at our critical processes and getting real data on performance. I have also spent very little time building a Lean Six Sigma infrastructure empire around me although it is a popular thing to do.

What have I learned?

  • Our leaders are looking in the mirror, either on their own or willingly when challenged.
  • The first five months have been about aligning strategy with planning, and understanding clearly where we are.
  • The focus of the trained Six Sigma resources next year will be mainly Lean.

Before anyone tells me about Lean Six Sigma, let me just tell you that it’s all a load of poop. Lean and Six Sigma have always been joined, but they are separate but equal partners. Ask any of the implementers from the mid 80’s at Motorola and they will tell you that Cycle Time Reduction accelerated everything.

So what does an implementation look like if you don’t just hit the ground running with Six Sigma? Simple –

  1. Take and honest look at yourself and define who you are and who you need to be.
  2. Align strategy and annual planning with the honest view of you.
  3. Define the few metrics, besides financials, that show that we are making progress or not.
  4. Align reward systems with metrics and define the cheater metrics as well in the reward system. Make sure what is rewarding is also in line with the metrics for the majority of your employees who work for you because they believe in what they do. Some examples of this type of person are most of your technicians, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, … Communicate strategy and plans broadly and consistently.
  5. Map the Value Streams of the few key end to end processes. Map flow of materials and services; flow of information, and flow of cash.
  6. Identify disruptions in two passes. First pass is the process as it exists today; the second is the process as it will exist if you meet near term growth targets. The disruptions are your project areas (yes, Goldratt is right). Don’t get hung up on hard savings (today’s issues) vs. soft savings (growth facilitating projects). Just make sure there is a balance between the two (thank you Larry Bossidy).
  7. Charter and plan projects (preferably as part of next years operating plan).
  8. Take care of the human architecture. This has two forms. The first is team dynamics, make sure your folks who need to be trained have been trained. This includes the seven basics tools and in my world would include many of Shainin’s tools. The second is choosing and nurturing champions and change agents. The common advice of “best and brightest” is necessary but not sufficient. You choose change agents based on something that is encoded in their DNA and is easy to measure. More on that next week. Just know that I believe that the advice that a good change agent is a good manager is terrible advice.
  9. Do Lean – Standard Work, 5s, SMED, and other Lean tools are among the best variation reduction tools you will ever meet. I can get any of you the first 75% of most of your BB projects with these tools and I can do it in the gap between M and A in DMAIC. Why would you do it any other way? Go get the first 75% and then see what is most important.
  10. Do Six Sigma – this is for those things that don’t give you what you need with Lean. This may be because they require much more sophisticated analysis tools. It is more likely they just need more time and someone (I nominate BBs) willing to roll up their sleeves and do the blue collar grunt work of digging through massive amounts of data and making sense of it (analysis phase tools).
  11. Share the learning broadly and democratically. What I mean by this is that very little of what is done in Six Sigma or Lean is sensitive enough not to be shared with everyone in your company’s value stream. Those who are driving improvement will always stay ahead of those who are trying to learn by watching.
  12. Repeat.

As anyone knows that has done this successfully, there is overlap between all of this; steps are the main focus area, but not the only focus area. For example, I will be doing some legitimate Six Sigma projects immediately. We are somewhere around steps 4 or 5.

First things first.

Please remember the hurricane survivors. Also offer a prayer for the curses of poverty and wealth.

About the Author