Lean Six Sigma musings...

I had the pleasure of an animated discussion (i.e. we were yelling at each other) with a friend (i.e. someone who doesn't know me well enough to hate me yet...) about Lean Six Sigma; essentially my friend was questioning the merits of the system, or more correctly the degree of sustainable success it ensures. He had been through a number of implementations, far more than myself, and was looking back at some projects that he was not happy with.

If I look upon my own Lean Six Sigma projects, I can point to a fair degree of success...in terms of measurable improvements that were sustained over a long period of time. And sure enough, according to most measures they have been fine projects.

But look behind the numbers, and the story becomes a lot less convincing, as much as it pains me to say it. One of the issues I often faced was that of organizational resistance: people feeling that I was telling them how to do their job, that it was insulting to them; that I was about to make them unimportant in the scheme of things. In the end, I was responsible for a huge number of resignations in a number of companies. Part of this was unavoidable, the result of new systems and processes that people who had spent decades working a certain way could not really adapt to, but I have to acknowledge my own approach was sometimes more than wanting in gaining stakeholder engagement.

I got support from the mouth, but not from the heart - and that was my failure. And when you see experienced, skilled people leave, then you have to ask...was it worth it?

Lean Six Sigma has gotten some bad press recently, in my mind undeservedly so: its core tenets are logical, sensible and practical in sustaining long term improvements in virtually any business. But the way it is implemented leaves much to be desired. In some companies it is simple, but in others, it is a struggle. It requires discipline but sensitivity. That is a keen balance that is so hard to achieve, and it was for me. I could get so much right, but with some people, no matter what I tried, it just didn't work for them. And these were not loafers, but skilled, hard working smart and clever people.

I know some LSS people have gotten it right - or close to right. I hope to be one of them soon enough.