Time for a low-carb Lean Six Sigma?

Mar 13 2008 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Will Lean Six Sigma survive? In the history books, for sure. In real life practice, in some form, no doubt.

But for all the good Lean Six Sigma provides us, it will eventually be seen as incomplete and either give way or evolve into something else. In other words, a better model will emerge.

This is not to say in lean six Sigma is bad. In fact, for many companies, it's probably the best thing going to increase productivity and profitability. It's just that the model is overlooking the intangibles.

Lean Six Sigma is built around measurements

Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma (the celebrated parents of Lean Six Sigma) are both about making improvements through measurements.

Lean Manufacturing has us analyzing process flow and delay times at each activity within a process. And while Lean Manufacturing principles help speed things up, they don't really focus on quality control. Think of it as "improving process speed."

On the other hand, Six Sigma uses data-driven decisions to achieve a specific quality through statistically tight controls. Its main focus is quality. Six Sigma won't necessarily improve process speed or reduce capital investments. Think of it as "improving quality of the end product."

By marrying the two we get Lean Six Sigma; An effort to improve both process speed and end-product quality at the same time.

Take note: Both concepts are built around measurements.

When companies start paying attention to these things they can realize a huge improvement in productivity and profitability. And recent research tells us that efforts like Lean Six Sigma are certainly needed. For example, in the service industry, slow production and doing work over again accounts for somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of the actual cost of producing and delivering a service.

Think of how much better off these companies could be if they paid attention to processes and controls. It may eat up some time in the near term, but it would pay big dividends in the long-term.

What Lean Six Sigma is missing

So first, companies need to make sure their measurement processes are in place. But as I mentioned earlier, Lean Six Sigma by itself is incomplete. How? It doesn't take into account the intangibles.

Much of what makes the workplace of successful has to do with things they can't be measured: Integrity. Team spirit. Dedication. Loyalty. Overlooking these things - or dismissing them - is downright dangerous.

This danger is explained best by looking at what has become known as The McNamara Fallacy.

The McNamara Fallacy is named after the Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense in the 1960's. Believing that if you could measure things you could manage them, McNamara was obsessed with quantifying the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, by focusing solely on measurements, he tended to ignore what was truly going on.

Later, in reflecting on that failed military effort, McNamara arrived at four key conclusions. They are as follows:

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is okay as far as it goes.

The second step is to disregard that which can't be measured or give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading.

The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't very important. This is blindness.

The fourth step is to say that that which can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.

McNamara learned that the intangibles matter - a lot.

Going Beyond Measurements

Hopefully companies can implement programs like Lean Six Sigma. But they can't stop there. They'll have to take the human factor into account.

One company implementing Lean Six Sigma ran the risk of blindness and suicide right off the bat. After determining "the most efficient" arrangement of tools and equipment at company workstations, they wanted every workstation arranged that way.

Their thinking was that as people filled in for others at different workstations, everyone would be familiar with the arrangement, and they could quickly locate tools – thus saving time.

What the company didn't take into account was that people are unique and they have unique preferences. And, since 90 percent of the time a person worked at his or her regular workstation, the "most efficient" arrangement actually slowed some people down.

Also, because they couldn't personalize their work area, employees didn't feel as much ownership and they had before. They felt like robots. Their level of caring dropped, and despite all the measurements and effort toward efficiency, productivity was no more efficient.

Thankfully, the company realized its mistake and made changes to its program. This is what I'm talking about -- the need to do more than just measure. The need to account for the intangibles.

Whatever Lean Six Sigma evolves into (Low-Carb Sigma?), we'll just have to wait and see. But it will evolve. It needs to.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. He’s also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence