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.