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Creative Problem Solving

Can one superhero (Six Sigma) save the planet ?

Few weeks back, there was an article being circulated in quality circles which remarked Six Sigma as a fashion and GE as its model. It also stated that GE’s market capitalization shrank from $600 billion (in 2000) to $80 billion now resulting in doubting the tools which were once behind its success.

Similar debate about lean (or Toyota Production System) emerged when few cars were recalled by Toyota.

How can we make such conclusions when business is becoming increasingly complex and no one tool or framework can suffice. That reminds me of Avenger’s superheroes who were powerful as individuals, but still they had to come together to fight complex threats faced by planet. Just because superheros came together, we can not say those superheros were bad or useless. For complex tasks / problems and big opportunities, variety of tools have to be deployed.

Each superhero is powerful as individuals. Hulk as an example (as seen in the clip below) is powerful enough to overpower Loki. Six Sigma is also strong framework to solve business problems provided we do not limit it’s power.

Knowingly / Unknowingly, facilitators commit these mistakes…

  1. Not understanding the business context / overall situation. If business context is not understood, the whole point of correctly prioritizing gets missed.
  2. Following the process too tightly. Every situation is different and facilitators need to adjust for best business results. The key is to ensure that principles behind the tools are followed. However, many facilitators do not begin their projects without a charter. They do understand that they need to start working on problems and not wait endlessly. While working, we may need to elaborate the project objectives and evolve the measurements. In today’s world, where things change exponentially – speed is prime.
  3. While exploring causes, Six sigma / TQM prescribes exploring all possible dimensions i.e 4M1E – Man, Machine, Material, Method, Environment but we do focus on what we can change and thus we limit ourselves to incremental solutions only. I have often seen that things like incentive structure (Man aspect) or competition (Environment aspect) is ignored although they were the key.
  4. Not knowing the basic principles behind what was prescribed by the tool is the reason why facilitators prescribe things that doesnt make common sense. Why do we do a 2-t test? Doing for the sake of doing is a sin! As facilitators, we need to keep questioning ourselves. It is required to continuously identify non-value adding aspects and eliminate them. We must make things so simple, everyone understands.
  5. We Jump too soon into execution ! We do not spend time in holistically framing and reframing the problem statement. May be reframing the problem doesn’t require a project but only slight change in upstream communication. It is our responsibility to help teams see holistic picture, picture which they may be missing in the daily run of things. See my other blog post on this topic.
  6. Not doing enough preparation, studying in depths to find underlying causation mechanism. Devil lies in details!
  7. Not pushing everyone to find new relationships, ideas or using newer technologies and methodologies to solve a problem. Six Sigma devotes one full phase to this, however we settle with routine solutions e.g. Training, refresher etc. Refinement is fine, but we need bright new solutions.

Today’s world is complex. We need to ensure that our Hulk a.k.a Six Sigma / Lean / TBEM / TQM / ISO9001 doesn’t get limited and acts to its full potential.

Looking forward to comments !


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