Lean, Mean, Six Sigma Machines

Lean, mean, Six Sigma machines [the broken link was removed] by Tam Harbert:

Without exception, each company is healthier now than it was five years ago. Three of them have turned profitable, and the fourth – Celestica – is close to turning the corner… The question is how much credit for their progress goes to Lean Six [Sigma].

Yes that is indeed a good question. What management claims as the reason for results is not necessarily actually the reason (and this is true not just if they say forced ranking is good [which I disagree with] or lean thinking is good [which I agree with]).

A great difficulty in evaluating management concepts is that the complexity (including interaction) makes it very difficult to determine the results of specific management decisions (separating out the effects of one or several decisions from the hundreds that were made and outside influences, etc.). How much of the success of Google is due to the 20% “engineer time.” Can you calculate the return? I don’t think so. But you can make a judgment that it is a benefit.


A great quote from Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming, page 121, states:

the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson, director of statistical methods for the Nashua corporation), but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

Another inconvenient truth the article mentions is that attempting to test management concepts across organizations is not easy. The repeatable conditions desired for testing a hypothesis are difficult to find between two organizations.

With their own jargon and complex frameworks, each methodology alone is hard to understand… Put them together and add each company’s own unique recipe, and identifying the exact ingredients is next to impossible.

Successful management concepts are not “cookie cutter” implementations. There are general concepts that apply everywhere. And there are tools that can be used everywhere. But exactly what form the management system takes, if successful, depends on the organization. And the system of management will not be the same even if they have the same named program whether it be: TQM, Six Sigma, learning organization, BPR, MBO…

Exploring the ideas raised by this article is worthwhile. Just remember “the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable, but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.” And, just because you cannot accurately measure something does not mean you cannot manage it (or learn from it to help you improve your management).

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