Management Improvement Flavors

Lean Manufacturing Visionary Jim Womack On Frontiers Of Lean Thinking [broken link has been removed], webcast and additional questions and answers:

Question: For a firm seeking to improve — what comes first? Six Sigma quality or lean implementation?

James Womack: Agh! These are all the same thing. You need to start with the value stream for very product, draw a map of its current state, and ask about each step: Is it valuable? Is it capable? Is it available? Is it adequate? Is it flexible? Then ask whether each step flows smoothly to the next but only at the pull of the customer as the process approaches perfection. Doing this simple exercise wraps together everything you need to know about TQM, TPM, TPS, Six Sigma, TOC, etc

I believe while they are similar to varying degree they are not the same thing. They may have similar goals – they are largely focused at improving performance of the organization (but even how they would measure success is different). And when implemented well each of these methods have value. However what is done in an organization focused on six sigma is different than one focused on lean thinking.

These efforts can all be compatible. And while I believe differences do exist between these concepts, I largely agree:

When I have a bit more time for a talk, I explain that “lean”, “six sigma”, and all the other programs focusing on process management are largely the same and are complimentary. It’s only the packaging efforts of competing consultants that creates the perception of fundamentally different approaches.

Many of the tools are used between the different programs and many of the important concepts are similar. Some tools are much more common in one program, even if they are not limited to one program (such as Design of Experiments used heavily in six sigma). But design of experiments existed long before six sigma and was used by sensible people to improve for decades before six sigma.

The biggest difference I see in the programs is the overall aim. And that overall aim affects everything else. I happen to be a fan of Deming’s ideas. Most of these programs take a great deal from Deming’s ideas. I believe Lean is closest to Deming’s ideas (which makes sense as Lean is essentially the Toyota Production System TPS). In 1991, Shoichiro Toyoda, Honorary Chairman and director of Toyota Motor Corporation stated [broken link was removed]:

“There is not a day I don’t think about what Dr. Deming meant to us. Deming is the core of our management.”

At Toyota, Ohno and then Shingo created TPS, which includes many new ideas that are truly unique to TPS and are not really a part of what Deming taught, though they are consistent with his ideas. The focus of TPS is different than Deming’s though much closer to Deming’s ideas that most any other company. I believe they evolved to something that is unique and valuable. This is exactly what I would expect as more companies adopt better management methods and then proceed to evolve those methods in their organizations.

I think in the current application of lean thinking many ignore some of the valuable ideas from Deming (which may well be related to, as Womack stated: “packaging efforts of competing consultants”). Toyota obviously put a high value on Deming’s ideas and those that try to adopt lean without understanding his ideas, can improve, but I believe they will be less successful over the long term.

Management concepts should evolve and improve over time. We should build upon the good ideas of yesterday and build in new innovations as they are shown to be effective. It is difficult to do so when consultants try to make their “solutions” proprietary methodologies that are sold in that way.

Luckily working with the ideas of Deming, Ohno, Drucker, Ackoff, Scholtes, Womack, Box, etc.. and building upon them is what is needed to be successful. I find that management thinkers focused on improving management rather than selling a proprietary solution have the best ideas that are needed to improve management. Eli Goldratt and Joel Barker have some valuable ideas but seem to be more proprietary about those ideas, to me, than most of the others.

I will admit I am biased against proprietary solutions. I especially find it annoying as many proprietary solutions offer nothing actually unique, they just take old management tools and then rename them or twist a bit and claim this is some great new thing. I also think many hide their ideas from public scrutiny claiming they are “proprietary.” I understand some good ideas are lurking in this area, still, I would be very reluctant to adopt proprietary management tools.

The continued evolving of quality management in six sigma, lean thinking and the adoption of many of the concepts into traditional management is a good thing. The current state of management improvement offers more good ideas and more refined ideas then ever before. And I do see lean thinking, six sigma, deming, systems thinking, theory of constraints, etc. as part of management improvement. The more learning from those focused in different areas there is the better; rather than forming isolated camps for improving the practice of management.

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