I have never personally sewn, but I’ve heard that one of the most difficult aspects of sewing is deciphering the pattern and following its directions. I learned this, and many more important lessons, from observing my mother, who made dresses for my sister when I was a child. Looking back, whoever created these patterns for a simple dress must have thought they were creating a blueprint for rocket scientists.

With sewing, patterns are essential; all of the pieces need to be the “right” size in order to fit them together. In today’s times patterns are produced in mass quantities and you can find a “standardized” pattern for anything you might want to sew. However, back in the day, patterns were not so readily available so folks were relegated to taking apart old clothes and using the pieces as a pattern to reproduce a copy with new cloth. Over time, the original pattern suffered from errors, such as over snipping the sleeves or under snipping the hem, leaving an observable difference from the “standard”. The further removed from the original pattern, the less the outcome resembled the blueprint.

So what does sewing patterns have to do with Six Sigma? During my many years of continuous improvement experience, I have learned from many good teachers who demonstrated methodological expertise and the startling ability to relate the philosophical to most any functional application. It is very tempting to live off this teaching and rely on it to energize my organization without ever returning to the source. I could easily be successful doing so without ever personally studying any of the original works of Deming, Shewhart, Juran, Shingo, etc. But without such study, my understanding of the methodology and the concept of Six Sigma that is transferred to anyone who learns from me will eventually get farther and farther away from the original ideas, potentially giving rise to “the blind leading the blind” syndrome.

Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to use an old worn out coat as a pattern for a new one. Go to the source and get the original blueprint. Preserve the spirit of the archetype, you’ll be a better Black Belt and nobody will make fun of your clothes.

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