IF YOU’RE a corporate manager, you have to think like a child to understand this article. You have to ask a lot of innocent questions like, why water is wet or why the sun is hot. In “Fooling Houdini” (2012), author-magician Alex Stone says it’s difficult to fool a child when you do a magic trick before them. Stone, who has an advanced degree in physics says: “When you really start to look at magic and how it works—the sort of nuts and bolts of how magic fools us—you start to ask some rather profound questions.”
Now, let me ask one profound question: why do some people consider Six Sigma as a magic potion, when it is not? My answer can be summarized in one word—hype. If you’re not convinced, let us simplify things so that the kid in us can understand what we’re talking about.
In my research, I came across Mark Deluzio’s newly-minted title, “Turn Waste into Wealth: How to Find Cash in Every Corner of the Company.” What is interesting about this 2016 book, is about its critical view of Six Sigma, which is described as something that has “gained a reputation it doesn’t deserve….
“In-company practitioners, sometimes called Green Belts and Black Belts, require extensive training in statistics and data analysis.” And when you talk about training that means bringing everyone in the organization to attend expensive workshops. This brings to mind—how many employees in the corporate world are interested in statistics? In reality, how many of us are interested in mathematics, anyway?
At times, when you’re heavy on statistics, chances are, you may be like a drunkard who uses lamp posts for support rather than for lighting.
Why make it difficult for everyone to study statistics and data analytics, when it is easy to identify non-value adding steps in work processes and eliminates obstruction to continuous flow of materials and information, which is the essence of “Lean” thinking? That is, of course, if you have open eyes, heart and mind.
I’m not saying that statistics and data analytics are not important. What I’m saying is why buy an expensive ballpoint pen when a pencil will serve the purpose?
The truth of the matter about Lean is as simple as engaging everyone, every day and everywhere to be actively conscious of the destructive effects of DOWNTIME (Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, and Non-use of corporate resources, Transportation, Inventory, Motion and Extra-processing).
You don’t need Six Sigma to understand how DOWNTIME can contribute to corporate losses.
Six Sigma is too elite for many of us. According to Deluzio, it means requiring “macho titles such as Black Belt (that) breeds elitism, which is antithetical to Lean” that requires an army of problem-solvers to actively seek problems and generate as many low-cost, common-sense solutions. You should know what I mean.
It’s better for all employees to think of at least 10 percent solutions, rather than wait for a 100-percent solution created by a genius who is difficult to come by in the first place.
Lean expert Deluzio, who is a pre-eminent thought leader in the Lean industry and is a life member of the Shingo Prize Academy, or the so-called Lean Hall of Fame, points out that “Six Sigma is expensive and requires a lot of problem-solving time, often six to nine months per project” that are managed by “highly paid operatives.”
Now, how many organizations can afford to pay several millions of pesos or hundreds of dollars before creating a pool of yellow or green belters, if not black belters and wait for nine months to solve a nagging operational issue?
There’s one best practice on this. Sometime ago, I was a judge of an annual competition of quality circles in one major electronics and semiconductor firm that relied on its factory workers (with only a high school diploma) to save close to $100 million at that time.
Surely, you can coach high school graduates and many kids in us to solve even invisible wastes that make organizations uncompetitive. One simple approach is to organize a one-week Lean (or kaizen) event to solve operational wastes. Another approach is a 2-3-day Value Stream Mapping workshop, which is very economical.
Six Sigma can blind us, in the same manner that it destroys our common sense. Therefore, the best approach is Lean thinking of the Western world, a.k.a. the generic kaizen for the Japanese, and the branded Toyota Production System. “Lean, not Six Sigma, is the big picture,” says Deluzio.
By the way, don’t forget to pass on this article to your elementary grade pupils.
Rey Elbo is a consultant on human resources and total quality management as fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or twitter for his random management thoughts.