Tag Archives: lean six sigma

Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively

If less than 1% of companies are successful with Lean, why are we doing it?

Lots of us are not. I would say the efforts I see “fail” are because they don’t do it. They have something they call TQM, six sigma, lean management or whatever and try out 10-30% of it in some half-measures, with big doses of Dilbert’s pointy haired boss methods and then don’t get great results. Wow.

The biggest complaint (with some merit) I see is why is lean/Deming/six sigma… so hard to actually do. If companies constantly fail to do it at all (even when they use the name) isn’t that an issue. Isn’t that a weakness of the “solution.” My answer is: yes. The caveat is, until someone comes up with the management system that both gets the results using Deming’s management ideas can, and is super easy for organizations to actually fully adopt (and have the great success that doing so provides) I know of nothing better than trying to do these things.

Certainly I believe you are much better off attempting to use Deming, lean or six sigma than listen to someone that tells you they have management instant pudding that will give you great results with no effort.

My belief is that a partial success rate is much higher than 1%. While many organization never go beyond slapping a few good tools on a outdated management system those few tools actually have good results. Maybe 50% of the implementations are so lame they have almost no positive results (not even getting improvement worth the time and effort). They could be seen as “failures,” to me. Those that actually have a right to say they are practicing “lean” I would say is a pretty small number but still above 1%?

There is also an advantage to this stuff being hard to do. You really don’t have to invent anything new. If you just have persistence and keep continually improving along the path applying ideas proven over decades from Deming, Ohno, McGregor, Christensen, Drucker, Scholtes, Womack, Roger Hoerl (six sigma)… you have a great advantage over all those organizations that ignored the ideas or made a bit of effort and then gave up.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemRethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually SaidManagement Advice FailuresManagement Improvement FlavorsHas Six Sigma Been a Success?

2011 Management Blog Roundup: Lean Six Sigma Blog

For my contribution to the 4th annual management blog roundup I am taking a look at 3 management blogs. In this post I look back at the year that was at the Lean Six Sigma blog.

We are lucky to have so many great management blogs to read all year. They provide inspiration and great advice to managers. Though, one of my frustrations is how few good six sigma resources there are online. In this area we are unlucky. The disparity between the amazingly high number of very high quality lean blogs and agile software development blogs compared to almost nothing of similar quality for six sigma content is dramatic (and unfortunate).

photo of Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira is the managing partner of Lean Six Sigma Academy and the Gemba Academy which provide high quality online lean manufacturing training. One of the ways Ron stands out are his posts that make continuous improvement a family affair (which I appreciate given that I grew up in such an environment).

In Let’s Dance he looks at understanding psychology as it relates to working with groups/teams (in this case his daughters soccer team): “my coaching style and my assistant coach’s style had become a bit too intense and, as a result, the girls were playing tight and scared to make mistakes… We kept this ‘dancing’ theme alive for the rest of the season. During warm-ups before games I, and the girls, would dance like fools. The other teams watched us like we were nuts… but we didn’t care. We kept right on laughing and dancing.” Take a look at this post, it really packs in a ton of great thoughts for managers.

Another way Ron stands out is with his webcasts on discussion lean terms (the gemba glossary). In this webcast he looks at the topic of standardized work processes.

One of the great things about blogs is the focus on what people really deal with day in and day out. It is nice to read about a great management system in a book like the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes. But what do you do when you are in a much more common situation, where others don’t share your desire to reshape the management system into something new and better? Ron took a look at this in his post: 3 Things You Can Do When Your Manager Doesn’t Support Continuous Improvement: “The best way to combat this is to demonstrate the value without them asking you to. In other words, make something better and let them know about it. And when I say make it better I mean it. Do something to positively impact the business.”

Another wonderful family related post by Ron this year was Training Wheels – “Like most young people my boy was itching to take the training wheels off his bicycle… The best part of all is he’s learning to solve his own problems. He’s not waiting for people to hand him things on a platter… How many times do we continuous improvement practitioners moan and groan about the lack of management support when, in actuality, even though they may not care they won’t stop you from making things better?”

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How to Get a New Management Strategy, Tool or Concept Adopted

Often when learning about Deming’s ideas on management, lean manufacturing, design of experiments, PDSA… people become excited. They discover new ideas that show great promise to alleviate the troubles they have in their workplace and lead them to better results. But how to actually get their organization to adopt the ideas often confounds them. In fact, I believe most potential improvements efforts may well fail even before they start because people can’t get past this problem.

I believe the way to encourage adoption of management improvement tools, methods and ideas is to solve people’s problems (or give them new opportunities). Instead of trying to convince people by talking about why they need to adopt some new ideas, I think it is much better to show them. To encourage the adoption of whatever it is (a philosophy like Deming or a new tool) try to find projects that would be good candidates for visible success. And then build on those successes.

For adopting whole new ways of working (like lean thinking) you go through this process many times, adding more and more new ideas to the accepted way of doing things. It is a bit easier if you are the CEO, but I think the strategy is very similar whoever you are. For smaller efforts a boss can often just mandate it. But for something like a large improvement in the way work is done (adopting a lean management system, for example), the challenge is the same. You have to convince people that the new methods and ideas are valuable and that they can use the ideas to help improve results.

Start small, it is very helpful if initial efforts are fairly small and straight forward. You often will have limited resources (and limited time people are willing to invest) at first. so start by picking projects that can be accomplished easily and once people have seen success more resources (including what is normally the most important one – people’s time) should be available. Though, honestly getting people to commit will likely be a challenge for a long time.

It is a rare organization that adopts a continual improvement, long term focus, system thinking mindset initially. The tendency is often strong to focus on fire fighting, fear (am I taking a risk by doing x, if I spend time improving y – what about the monthly target my boss is measuring me on…) and maintaining the status quo. It is baffling to many hoping for improvement, when you have huge successes, and yet the old way of doing things retains a great hold. The inertia of organizations is huge.
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Management Improvement Internal Experts

Having a group of internal experts in Deming, lean thinking, six sigma, etc. can be an good way to help the organization transform but they must 1) practice respect for people and 2) focus on building organizational capacity. Having, for example a few experts that are very focused on lean thinking and can be tapped by others in the organization I think can be very useful.

That group might well also serve as “change agents” which can make some people get mad at them. They can help push the organization to change. While it might be nice to think you can just show the wonderfulness that is lean thinking and everyone will immediately drop all their old habits and embrace lean thinking that often doesn’t happen. You might well have to push middle mangers (and others) outside their comfort zone. And you might well have to push people to really try this stuff and they have become so disheartened over the years by promises of new, better, ways to work. They just see this as one more lame pointy haired boss attempt and they may well not want to play.

A big focus should be on making improvement in the performance of the organization, obviously, but also on making it clear that this new way of doing things is helpful and will make it a better place to work. The role of internal management improvements efforts is to build the capacity of the rest of the organization to improve. Six sigma efforts often instead put the emphasis on six sigma experts doing the improvement instead of coaching and providing assistance to those who best know the processes to improve, which I see as a mistake.

Response to The “Lean Group” Syndrome
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Department of Defense Lean Six Sigma

Gordon England, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, signed a directive establishing policy and assigning responsibilities to institutionalize the effort throughout DoD. See a webcast of his speech on lean six sigma to a DoD conference on continuous process improvement.

Leading Business Transformation the “Lean” Way

Since it began employing LSS, the Department of the Navy (DON) has completed 1,700 Black Belt/Green Belt projects and over 2,000 Kaizen events (i.e., action-oriented events designed to improve existing processes). Initial projects were designed to build confidence and gain momentum for success in high-impact core business value streams. The DON’s total of 3,399 trained LSS Green Belts exceeds the Secretary’s goal of 2,000 by the end of 2006, and of the 935 trained LSS Black Belts in the DON, 93 have attained American Society for Quality (ASQ) Black Belt certification.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) joined with Raytheon to complete an LSS project, which ultimately saved $133.5M across the 2006 FYDP and $421M over the life of the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) Block II program. The integrated product team developed a three-tier approach to reducing weapon unit cost over a two-year period. Success of the JSOW program has led to development of a follow-on Block III weapon system.

The Marine Corps is applying LSS concepts, analytic techniques, and tools to improve the process for identifying, evaluating and acquiring critically needed warfighting equipment. Initial analysis focused on the evaluation stage, where improvements reduced the time required for this step by 35% – from 131 days to 85 days – and identified savings valued at $135K per year.

The first LSS initiative for Army aviation scheduled maintenance was deemed a success and signals a more efficient future for maintaining the Fort Rucker helicopter fleet. More than 32 days of scheduled maintenance were saved during the first LSS effort for Aviation Unit Maintenance involving UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter scheduled maintenance. The first helicopter inducted into the newly developed process was returned to flying status in just 18 days, which included a four-day break for the Fourth of July weekend. That is a 67% improvement in phase flow efficiency from the previous average time of more than 50 days of phase cycle maintenance for the UH-60.

See: online six sigma resources and lean manufacturing resources from the Curious Cat management improvement web site.

Related: Government Lean Six SigmaPublic Sector Continuous Improvement SiteTransformation Through Lean Six SigmaArmy Business TransformationHistory Of Quality Management OnlineMore Lean GovernmentArmy Lean Six Sigma
Doing More With Less in the Public Sector: A Progress Report from Madison, Wisconsin by William G. Hunter, Jan O’Neill, and Carol Wallen, June 1986.