Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lean Six Sigma

KT posted a hilarious video on Lean Six Sigma (LSS), a method embraced in industry and government for process improvement. I went on an extended rant in KT's comments section which I have liberated to a post here.

My experience with this method of process improvement has been uniformly miserable, failing to achieve anything of significance. Recently I was again provided the results of an LSS effort that again resulted in a new process but no reasonable method of implementation. This is the third time in a row. Each time we are asked to then build an information system to implement something conceived by LSS, and we have to start over. I was told that, at a minimum LSS would deliver "shovel ready" requirements against which software could be delivered, but that has not been the case.

The root cause of this failure initially eluded me, because I don't believe that anyone is intentionally stupid or malicious, but you can't tell by the results of LSS. Thinking about Stephen Covey's 7 Habits helped me dissect the mystery. Habit 2, begin with the end in mind, provided the insight. LSS, by its nature, starts with no particular end in mind, just the idea of improvement. As a result no actual improvement comes from this undefined goal.

A brief example. We set a goal that over 80% of new employees would have a functioning email account and computer account on their first day of employment. We made significant changes in the way we performed initial information assurance and other training and achieved that goal. We are trying to ratchet up to 85%. But we get no credit for huge process improvement that has saved millions of dollars in lost productivity because employees previously waited around for up to two weeks before they could use a computer. Sorry, no LSS credit for the poor slobs who did all the work to save the organization millions (and I can prove it.) (Achieving LSS savings is often put into employee objectives. In this case, we started with a particular goal and actually effected process improvement, because we knew where we wanted to go.


  1. Thanks for the link! I'm glad you liked the video. Too bad xtranormal's video player code is all broken right now.

    As for LSS, I wonder when someone in a big meeting like the one we just had will go off on a rant about it and CAO. That would be fun.

    Maybe at the next one we need to start drinking early in the day to loosen people up.


  2. CAO! CAO is a bunch of crap! Another systems designed to waste productive time trying to figure out who goes where and who reports to whom! I am so tired of being made to participate in a system that has no demonstrable ROI that I could scream. If you ever take a 7 Habits for Highly Effective People course you will see, as one of the suggested reading entree's, the book "Good to Great". This book is sort of a Harvard Business case study of companies that decided to look inward to see what their core competencies were and to capitalize on those competencies to make themselves great in whatever area they chose to compete. Needless to say everyone of the 28 major companies profiled were customer or product oriented and NOT competency oriented! And they were all giants in their respective industries. So here we march down the road to CAO with no end in mind (thanks Covey!) and all it does it confuse and confound. Where is the ROI???

  3. It looks like someone needs to be put into an competency alignment time out and think about what they said!

  4. Excellent examples of how excess labor can be used to strengthen processes and deliver more value to customers.
    Why don't more companies see the value in this? I believe it's because of silo thinking and optimizing the silos instead of looking across the entire value strea. Thoughts? lean six sigma