All or Nothing at All?

“All or nothin’ at all…

Half a love never appealed to me

If your heart, it never would yield to me

Then I’d rather, rather have nothin’ at all.”

(Song composed in 1939 by Arther Altman, lyrics by Jack Lawrence – a big hit for Frank Sinatra)

I was thinking of these lyrics the other day, when a few of my colleagues engaged in a discussion about doing Lean and Six Sigma “the right way.” Some said, if you weren’t going to do it right – meaning, in strict emulation of the Toyota Production System or Motorola, then you shouldn’t bother to do it at all. Others said, half a loaf is better than none, and if you engaged employees in 5S, process mapping and other simpletools, at least you would be setting the foundation for culture change.

Since not everyone has a Jack Welch, or a leadership team composed of Taiichi Ohno/Shigeo Shingo/Eiji Toyoda, that raised an interesting question to me. Is there no reason for starting to use lean tools, or implement a Six Sigma culture, if you can’t do it right, right away?

Another cultural reference occurred to me, this time from the old movie “The Mighty Ducks.” There’s a scene in which a hard-driving youth hockey coach tells his team of boys, “It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big!” Some companies won’t charter a Six Sigma project if the expected ROI is less than a quarter of a million dollars (or other large figure). But does that mean, that the only projects we can do are large projects?

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So my two questions that I would like to ask for your help in pondering, are:

1. Is it worth doing lean or Six Sigma if you can’t do it full-force, with a full scale deployment and all leaders maximally committed?

2. Is it worth doing small projects, if the only significant ROI comes from large projects?

In other words… does it have to be all, or nothin’ at all?

Comments 7

  1. Mike LaChapelle

    In my experience, it is worth doing Lean and/or Six Sigma if you can’t do it "full force". However, you will get greater benefit from Lean and Six Sigma if your leadership is fully committed.

    Without full leadership commitment, you may have difficulty implementing your proposed solutions and you may experience more "back-sliding" as previously implemented solutions come undone.

    It is also worth doing small projects. I don’t necessarily believe that it is true that the only significant ROI comes from large projects. Some of the highest ROI projects are simple, "just do it" projects that can be implemented in less than a week.

    Some people believe that all Six Sigma projects must be many weeks or months in duration. This isn’t necessarily true. Skilled, knowledgeable Six Sigma specialists can use the tools effectively to complete projects in a few weeks.

    It doesn’t have to be "all or nothing at all".

  2. MBBinWI

    Sue: An issue with half-hearted or small projects is that it has the potential to become "flavor of the month." Only when the organization has become mature and embedded in DNA of culture can these smaller projects be really effective. Otherwise it shows lack of commitment.

  3. Remi

    Hai Sue,

    My answer to your 2 questions is: (1) it depends and (2) it depends. ;-)}

    As I see it it depends on the Target for "(Lean) Six Sigma in Company XXX" .
    Examples can be: Money, changing the company; educating the staff;…

    One can use ROI-thinking also on the results wanted from (Lean) Six Sigma. If you want Huge returns you need larger investments. Some companies go for it (all or nothing); others want to start with small investments so should expect small results.


  4. Attila Dobai

    1. Is it worth doing lean or Six Sigma if you can’t do it full-force, with a full scale deployment and all leaders maximally committed?

    Can you ever do it full-force? I think that is a perfect state scenario; therefore, we are always working at less than full-force. It is absolutely worth doing, but the closer you get to full-force the better the results.

    2. Is it worth doing small projects, if the only significant ROI comes from large projects?

    Time commitment is rarely an indicator of ROI success. Some projects, in the service industry, have large returns in a very short time frame.

  5. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks Mike, for your insighful comments. I have received many calls and emails from people at the mid-management level, wanting to implement a formal process improvement model but stymied by upper leadership lack of interest (or, to be fair, focus on something else that seemed critical to the organization’s survival). WHile some of the tools can be used effectively by themselves, you are right that such impact will be limited if leadership isn’t also engaged.

    MBBinWI, haven’t we all seen the "balloon kick-off" as I call it, for the launch of a new process that is guaranteed to become "the way we work" and NOT "the flavor of the month." When in our hearts, we have a deep suspicion that it can’t last… and we are saddened when later (for a variety of reasons) it’s given up.

    Remi makes a good point about the purpose of the deployment. An organization can choose to go large or small, depending on their needs and strategy.

    Attila, you remind us that time, money, or other factors may have a different impact based again on an organization’s approach and industry.

    Thanks all for contributing to this discussion!

  6. keith blakeley

    Small projects become big projects. Better: I use the returns from small projects to fund the next project. If I earned a benefit of $100k on this one, it funds the kickoff for the next one. So, culture change? nothing succeeds like success. A series of small wins gradually sets the stage for that important mindset change: this stuff WORKS! Give me more please!

    Someone mentioned flavor of the month. Real problem. we avoid using an labels for what we do. It is all just part of "making it better". I can tell them we are following 6S or TQM or… But, the bottom line benefit tells the story better – without the label.

    Final note: don’t skip the Economic Analysis. Make sure the project in question actually has a positive return. Then, when you finish, run the numbers again. Partly for bragging rights, mostly to improve your planning systems. Validate your expectations with actual results. Then, publish the results -successes (and failures). You learn from both.

  7. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks Keith for adding your perspective – you have some great points to share, obviously base don your experience. Thanks for adding to the conversation,
    Sue K.

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