February 18, 2016

Done Lean - Six Sigma? Didn't really work?

We hear from a lot of companies that they’ve ‘done’ Lean, ‘done’ Six Sigma, and with this there’s very often an associated ‘and it didn’t really work for us’ attached. When we probe a bit further, it soon transpires that whilst they had a go at it, there were lots of required ingredients that weren’t in place, and naturally, rather like baking a chocolate cake without the chocolate or cocoa, the result didn’t meet expectations.

 

So where are the pitfalls?

 

The top ones we come across time and time again include:

  • A sole focus on removing waste (non-value adding activity, Muda in Japanese) from processes. Many people start here because it’s easy, and the results can be impressive. But the benefits are not always sustainable, particularly if there’s no focus on the two other very important strands of Lean: Muri (having to work hard to get the required results, which results in errors/unsustainability or results) and Mura (uneven demand: when there’s a spike in demand it’s all hands on deck in ‘save the day’ mode, which typically brings lots of Muda (waste) and Muri (too much effort) into the system. Working on Mura (uneven demand) can be tricky to start with, but is so important. It generally involves working closely with the whole supply chain, and perhaps most importantly, needs an executive team who are OF ONE MIND about their desired future and the strategy needed to bring it about. This is often rather a rare commodity.

  • ‍Training lots of Yellow/Green/Black belt practitioners, with insufficient focus on all the other ingredients needed to ensure they actually get to use their valuable knowledge. Things like:

  1. ‍ Do we have enough projects for people to apply their learning to?

  2. ‍Can we afford to have x number of people working on projects (rather than performing their normal role)? If not, how long will it be after their training that they can actually apply the learning? We’ve come across several organisations who’ve trained up huge numbers of ‘belts’ only for them to have to wait 6 months to apply the learning, by which time they’ve forgotten most of it.

  3. ‍Do we have the coaching capacity to support them as they apply their learning (as they will potentially struggle at times)?

  4. ‍Do we have sufficient capacity for facilitation: it’s one thing to learn about a skillset; applying it effectively (with potentially cynical/negative groups) requires an entirely different skillset.

  5. ‍Do managers understand what we want to achieve? In many cases they don’t. The whole arena of Lean-Six Sigma can appear to be a rather (scary) dark art, which can detract from support. However usually it takes no more than half a day to help deal with this.

  6. ‍Does the focus on Lean-Six Sigma have sufficient sponsorship? At board level? At local level? Many organisations appear to have sponsors, but the reality is they’re sponsors in name only, leaving practitioners without real support or political clout.

  7. ‍Does the organisation actually need the level of expertise of a Green/Black belt to make the required improvements? Very often the answer is no, making it overkill to train people to that level (in itself a waste). And because the skill set doesn’t get used, people feel like they’re having to jump through hoops for the sake of a qualification.

  • ‍‘Keep up with the Jones’ effect, without sufficient link to overall strategy. If competitors are doing it, some organisations embark on Lean-Six Sigma as the latest fad thing to do. But it’s not a core component of their overall strategy, rather a bolt-on that can be jettisoned if needs be. And when the going gets tough, such as when other urgent needs arise in the business, Lean-Six Sigma is left to flounder. For it to be successful it needs to be an integral part of overall strategy, something that becomes intertwined in the organisation’s DNA.

  • The need for leaders and managers to solve crises. Let’s face it, there’s often a great buzz from averting an impending disaster, and some of us love this so much that to embed systems and processes which minimize the likelihood of crises arising may go against the grain. This is often unconscious, and sometimes it’s a misunderstanding of purpose. A recent example includes working with a unit of psychiatrists whose purpose (generally speaking) is to help their patients deal with their crises and to minimize stress. Yet the way they are set up to work frequently places huge stress on the psychiatrists, resulting in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ culture. The leader’s mindset is to discount inefficiencies in systems and processes because of a belief that ‘we are here to deal with crises’. Yes, the team’s role is to help others deal with their crises, but not to create crises for the team members, who are already extremely stressed out with overwork and very wasteful processes.  For leaders like this it’s time to wake up, or move to a different ‘fire fighting’ role.

    Another example comes from the world of migration, in itself a very hot topic at the moment. Many people involved in working with migrants are fire fighting experts: they demonstrate huge bravery and commitment to the cause, working in very challenging, often extremely dangerous conditions. Yet once the crisis has been averted, many find it very difficult to switch to the more mundane work involved in more every day aspects of migration, such as working on migration policy with government officials, which ultimately can help stop the crises from emerging in the first place.

    Then you only have to look at the world of flooding for another example. Governments are pouring huge amount of resource into flood defenses, yet they’re looking at symptoms, not cause. The fact that farmers only get their EU subsidy if they clear land of trees and, in the case of hill farmers, increase numbers of sheep, resulting in trampling of soil and extreme levels of runoff should be enough for them to realize that that a significant amount of the cause is upstream. But there’s an adrenalin rush (and potentially local political kudos) from diving into tackling symptoms, rather than taking time to fully analyse cause, minimizing the need for expensive solutions in the first place. Tax payers in flood zones are already paying increased tax and insurance premiums, yet little is being done on dealing with the contributing factors upstream. A close contact is an expert in this domain at the Environment Agency (UK), and is constantly finding the (UK) government’s eyes and ears are closed to this. Here’s hoping that will change following the bad flooding this winter (2015-16). Sadly, given the repeated behaviours of various governments, it seems there’s more political kudos from acting in fire fighting mode and leaping in with expensive flood defences rather than tackling the problem more holistically.


Over the years we've learned a lot about what makes for successful application of Lean - Six Sigma in a wide variety contexts, and have often been called in when an initial attempt has going wrong. So if you'd like to know more about how to maximise your likelihood of returns - and as a result get the best from your investment - do get in touch for an informal chat. We'd love to hear about your experiences, and to share what's worked for us with other clients.

Other Posts

Leadership
Gang fights, Bridges and Beer
What have gang fights, bridges and beer have in common? Read on and find out #OpenYourWorld
Leadership
Habitual Power
Habit is the breakfast of champions, but also the undoing of us when we unconsciously get sucked into less than useful habits. So where’s your focus (consciously and unconsciously)? How about the company where you work? What patterns do you notice? Are you a habitually busy person, rarely able to find time to do the important things you know you should? Do you get sucked into the busy-ness of others?
Customer Experience
What an Experience
How's the customer experience with your company? How easy is it for them to do business with you? How do you most want your customers to feel while doing business with you? Anxious, uncertain, annoyed, frustrated? We guess that’d be a no. Yet there are still so many businesses that continue to generate these feelings in their customers.
Inside Out
The Ultimate Accountability Model
We’d like to suggest that the key to solving the angst about migration is to point people to the source of their experience. When countries and individuals realise that their anti-refugee stance is not caused by things that happen on the outside that they may feel a victim of, but by what’s going on with their thinking, then there’s hope.
Customer Experience
What Gets Measured Gets Experienced
You’ve no doubt heard the expression ‘What gets measured gets done’, an adage which seems to hold true because the things we’re measured against typically drive our focus and behaviour. We’d like to offer a slight - but important - adaptation of this: what gets measured gets experienced. Bear with me on this: I’m not sure if it holds true all the time, and I’m sharing something here that’s still in its formative stages. However, as customer experience is becoming more and more of a differentiator amongst businesses I think it’s well worthwhile trying this modified mantra on for size.
Customer Experience
Come On Retail, Retaliate!
Is it all gloom and doom in the retail sector? Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the British Retail Consortium, warned last week that the retail sector is facing the loss of up to 900,000 jobs and thousands of shop closures in the coming decade. This in part due to the new apprenticeship levy and the rise in the National Living Wage. Over in Europe things aren’t much different, with Swiss retailers in particular feeling the pinch due to the strong franc and the ease of buying the same product in the Eurozone at much lower prices.
Customer Experience
Small Words, Big Impact
Changing small words can have a big impact on outcomes. Discover some of the helpful recent findings from the world of Conversational Analysis, particularly applicable in the worlds of customer experience, negotiating, sales and general consulations.
Inside Out
The Curious David Bowie Effect
Fundamentally, this is what’s behind everything that prevents us realising our full potential: things like stress, overwhelm, anxiety, office politics, levels of busy-ness, baggage from previous encounters and so on. The performance of an organisation is a function of the quality of its people’s thinking. When the quality and clarity of thinking improves, great things happen.
Culture Change
Bringing About Organisational Change
An interview with Alastair Olby on bringing about change in organisations. When do traditional methods work, and when could you be making life easier by taking more of a cutting edge approach?
Customer Experience
To Delight or Not Frustrate? That is the Question
There’s a world of difference between a customer experience-focussed company and a customer service-focussed company: it’s a profound cultural difference, and to make the shift from one to the other isn’t necessarily easy, but it IS possible.
Facilitating
Graphic Recording and Groups: how much value does it add?
As a professional facilitator I’m very aware of the importance and value of visually summarising what’s being discussed by groups, but at the recent European International Association of Facilitators’ conference an interesting question arose. It seems to have become best practice to have a graphics expert work alongside groups to create a visual summary of what the group discusses. However for some it's not always easy to recall what's depicted. So what should we do?
Customer Experience
What Have Dignity And Respect Got To Do With It?
Recently a large organisation we work with launched a Dignity and Respect workshop for its staff. Why? Well customer feedback suggested that this was an area for improvement. The workshop took 90 minutes and underlined why it's so important for customers to be treated well, and the sorts of behaviours that are expected of the organisation's staff. The result? Fuming staff. Read on to find out why.
Leadership
I'm Honest, Right?
The one thing followers most want from a leader is honesty. Honesty ranks head and shoulders above all the other wants of followers. It's the number one thing to get right, yet many leaders in large organisations inadvertently create an impression of dishonesty. Read on to find out how this happens.
Culture Change
Are You Ready For The Inclusion Challenge?
Did you know that despite the economic gloom around much of the world, at the moment engineers are in short supply? With emerging markets' need for qualified, skilled engineers, many organisations are having to re-evaluate their approach to recruiting and retaining talented staff, casting the net far wider than before. This then creates challenges with ensuring people from very different backgrounds feel included in the workplace.
Culture Change
Are Meetings Taking Over Your Life?
So many people are finding there's precious little time to do their normal job after all the meetings they have to attend. Read on to find out how come core principles for meetings can make a big improvement.
Leadership
Are You Working For A Psychopath?
Surely not! But wait on a minute. Recent research for the film 'The Corporation' concludes that the closest character definition of a typical corporation is that of a psychopath. So can working within organisational values result in decent people doing things which are collectively harmful?
Customer Experience
Is This The Same Hotel?
Do your customers experience variation in the quality of your service or product? In the age of the experience economy, and the need to focus on customer experience, not customer service, this is such an important area. How does your company stack up?