Don’t Bury the Past

In the 4th century, the Roman emperor Constantine built the Hippodrome in what is now Istanbul, Turkey. The Hippodrome was the Daytona Super Speedway of chariot racing. An amazing example of architectural genius, the Hippodrome had 1/4 mile straight-aways andheld over 100 thousand spectators. Believe it or not, the facility even had luxury boxes and pit stalls. Hearing a description of the place makes one wonder if the chariots themselves were covered with sponsor decals.

TheHippodrome survived the fall of the Roman Empire but eventually fell into disrepair under the Byzantines. Nowadays the only visible portion of thebuilding is a wall at one end and the monuments built on the infield of the racing oval. The rest of thestructure is underground, layered over with centuries of building, demolition, and rebuilding.

By now you are probably wondering how in the world I’m going to tie this interesting piece of trivia to Six Sigma. Well, here goes:

My experience has taught me that many companies tend to work the same projects over and over again. In other words, control plans to maintain the original gains are rarely executed effectively. Insuch cases the key to maintaining the improvement is often related to whether or not someone from the original project team remains close to the process. When the last remnants of the team are displaced,or overthrown like the Romans, the process begins to decline. Enter the new team who, instead of using the work of their predecessors to take the process to the next level, starts all over. How much of the success of a Six Sigma program gets buried by new generations of well intentioned Black Belts and their managers? Quite a bit if the program doesn’t include a disciplined approachregarding control plans.

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I guess the moral of the story is: don’t be the BB who is frowned upon in the history books a thousand years from now because you failed to implement a control plan to effectively sustain the success of a project. Who knows, some nutty blogger might write you up…

Comments 7

  1. Andrew M. Hillig

    I agree with you completely. It seems that sustainability is always the last thing thought about when implementing.

    What are your thoughts about ex-patriating though? I feel that it has both pros and cons.

  2. Michael McBride

    I agree that ex-patriating can have both pros & cons but if the company has a solid project management system in place, specifically one which provides archives of previous project work, the pros probably outweigh the cons. I must admit however that such systems are uncommon.

  3. Dave Brown

    While what you say is true, I believe you may be discounting the root cause. Scoring results is a key mechanism in the burial of long-term benefit. When a project leader is faced with the decision of investing in control plans (without a demonstrate gain) or scoring results in a new project which do you believe is favored?

  4. Michael McBride

    Mr. Brown,
    The original post assumes demonstrable results since, as your question indicates, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in a control plan for a project which failed to meet its objective.
    If by your question you are asking if the favored option is to pursue further gain with a new team rather than maintain the current state, assuming again that the current state is meeting expectations, I guess that would depend on the circumstances. However, I wouldn’t consider taking that process to the next level with a new team necessarily burying the results of the past, merely building on.

  5. Dave Brown

    Allow me to be direct. The question is loss avoidance verses new benefits. Often there is reluctance to invest in cost / loss avoidance, while the gates are wide open to invest in new benefits. How can you justify investing to maintain the status quo? Was that investment planned from the beginning, taken from the savings?

    I like your thinking in the original article. Why use your precious resource to maintain the Hippodrome when you could gain new favor by investing in education or feeding the poor for example.

    The measures of success change as today’s gains fade to yesterday’s glory and become a drain on tomorrow’s resources.

  6. Michael McBride

    I’m afraid we’re not connecting on this one. My original point was to promote the use of control plans which incorporate methods to maintain the gains of a successful project. In the absence of such plans a promising change could be buried and forgotten as soon as the Black Belt moves to another project. The context assumes a project has produced verifiable results and is worthy of investment, if required, to maintain the new performance level.
    The fact that this process will eventually be a candidate for improvement in the future doesn’t diminish the need for a control plan, rather, it strengthens it. When its’ candidacy for improvement is confirmed by a future project team, the old control plan will be a great guide to what was done in the past, thus the control plan serves at least two essential functions: (1) sustaining the gains via the project, (2) as a historical record of what has been done to improve the process in the past. That said, the original post had nothing to do with investment. If a project is chartered and worked I would think it worthy of a control plan.
    Maybe we’re just looking at the same subject from entirely different vantage points. I don’t necessarily disagree with what you’ve said, I just don’t see the connection to my original point. The fault in that would lie entirely with me since obviously I failed to make the point clearly, but, thanks for the comments. Maybe I’ll make your point in my next blog and we’ll take it from there.

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