Friday, July 29, 2016

Everybody loves Lean...for the wrong reasons!

Everybody loves Lean. I mean the Lean thinking and management methods variety here.

I have interviewed over 200 quality professionals in the last year or so and end up asking what do they prefer - Lean or Six Sigma. My original intention was to initiate a discussion and not to arrive at a conclusion. However, as I kept asking the same question I found a vast majority (over 80%) of candidates saying they loved Lean. While this is fine, as we all have preferences, I followed up the question with a WHY. This is where rubber meets the road.

Over 75% of the candidates who said they loved Lean had something like this to say: 
  • It doesn’t need data (not a lot of it)
  • Management gets it
  • It’s faster (and easier)
Now all these sound valid reasons. And they are just that – sound valid.

Lean doesn’t need data: Yes it doesn’t need data if you just want your theories pushed without analysis, it doesn’t need data if you want quick fix solutions only, it doesn’t need data if you are lazy, it doesn’t need data if you don’t know how to analyze it. You get the point I am sure.

If you want to do a proper job Lean needs as much if not more data than Six Sigma needs. You can’t do a good Value Stream Map without data. You can’t do any Value Added analysis without data. You can’t load balance or do Takt time calculations without data. Almost any analysis you want to do using Lean tools you will need data. The same data that you need when you use Six Sigma.

Management get it: Management gets it kind of assumes that they don’t get the other stuff Quality managers talk about. Most Quality managers think management does not care about their ideas. Little introspection will tell us that management is where they are because they (usually) have brains and have done enough to be at that position. If they don’t get what you say it is highly likely the fault is in your messaging and not their understanding.

Most Quality managers talk too much tool and technique for management to be interested. They are short on time and need outcomes. We are paid to know and follow the process. Management is paid for outcomes. Please make your message clearer and outcome oriented to help them understand. Don’t blame Six Sigma in favor of Lean if you can’t explain it.

It’s faster: Yes Lean is faster. If you are thinking it is a short cut to projects then yes it is faster. Lean is not just about projects. It’s also a way of managing your operations. If you are implementing Kaizen (part of a larger Lean body) you don’t need it to be fast or slow. You need it to make an impact. Lean projects use A3 methodology which is not very different from DMAIC. Why would it be any slower or faster.

While projects do need to be done faster than what we did five years ago, this does not mean Six Sigma is not good enough and Lean is. Lean projects, properly done, take as much time as a well done Six Sigma project. Speed comes from execution not from the method.

In conclusion – you may love Lean over Six Sigma but please find good reasons. Not lazy ones.

This post first appeared at 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

So what is Lean Six Sigma?

I am often asked this question as I teach a class or explain improvement ideas to business leaders. Of course as a certified MBB I should know this well and it should be easy to explain.  Many of you may have learnt from experience that this is not easy to explain at all. To explain the similarities and differences between Lean and Six Sigma and they say they can work together pretty well can be complicated. It is like teaching a child how to cycle – look ahead that’s the key; pedal steadily, that’s critical. How is a kid supposed to know what the difference is between key and critical? They get confused – do you want me to look ahead or just pedal, be clear, is the retort many have. Grownups are no different. And this is not because they don’t get it, it is because we don’t explain it well.
Here is a summary of how I tackle this question. Hoping it helps you do the same.

Continued Relevance and 10X returns a must for quality professionals

A new ASQ round-table topic recently pushed me to think about careers in Quality. It is not uncommon for professional organizations to think about careers of their members. If members earn more they pay more in fees. On a serious note, a core function of a professional association is to see the function grow and attract more (and better) professionals to its fold.
Where does my career go in 2016? I don’t really know. I hope it goes far but being the realist I am, I hope it remains on course to go far in the longer run. I am hoping to make my team more benefit oriented than method oriented. It is high time quality functions delivered in multiples (10x?) of their budget and do so consistently. I would like to focus on execution and getting things done. In doing so I could be more relevant through the year. And that’s the theme – Continued Relevance.

Features are promised. Quality is delivered!

While teaching or talking about quality I often get dragged into a debate that high end features come with a cost and can’t be delivered at a low price point. Hence quality doesn’t come cheap. Examples cited include smartphones and cars. The argument is simple – you can’t get high end features at low prices.
I have never seen why this argument means quality cannot come at a low price point. I can and do agree to the argument that high end features do not come a low price points early in their life cycle. But why extend the argument to quality.
Features are promised. Quality is delivered! 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ABC of Culture – Attitude, Behavior, and Commitment

You would have read a lot about culture and performance. Much of this very philosophical and borders on abstract. Want to read something crisp and practical? Read what ASQ Influential Voice James Lawther had to say on Creating a Performance Culture at ASQ’s blog. James gives a practical list of six behaviors that companies see with respect to a performance culture.  

What is my view on performance and culture? While I can’t define culture very accurately I am convinced it leads to performance. Over a period of time. Time is a very important factor when judging the impact of culture on performance. A whip by the minute culture can deliver superior performance in the short term but will not sustain. Similarly, a very trusting and open culture may take time for people to respond and deliver superior performance.

I will make my point with two examples that I have seen in my career. Judge for yourself.

Talking of Culture I am reminded of a textiles company I assessed over a decade ago. I was then a consultant conducting assessments for organizations using the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria and a model we had developed called the International Quality Maturity Model (IQMM). This client was clearly desperate for some glory. And in a hurry. While the production facilities looked fine, I was intrigued by a pattern I saw in senior management attrition. Some enquiry revealed that CEO of this company would hire select staff from marquee companies and offer outrageous salaries. Many of these professionals would jump and join. What followed was hell! The CEO would drive these professionals mad with crazy targets and very unprofessional behavior. Snapping at senior professionals in public, talking rudely, etc were only the norm on a normal day. Result? Most of these professionals would leave within six months and the company floundered. Classic case of money can’t buy culture.

I have also assessed some companies of the Tata group. A sharp contrast to the company and CEO I talked about above, the culture at Tata group is one of mutual respect. Having met several of its senior leaders I have seen a pattern. It’s as if all are cast by the same die. While more of the same is boring but not when it’s about establishing a culture. Results are for all to see. All companies of the Tata group do really well. You will not see unnecessary shouting and ranting. You will see fair and just treatment of all. When the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was attacked by terrorists a few years back the Tata culture was there for all to see. The Chairman of the group Ratan Tata stood near the iconic hotel and personally enquired about his staff. The then GM of the hotel had his own family up in the hotel but ensured that guests were rescued. The group then announced relief for all staff and anyone else affected (even people at the nearby railway station). Entire staff was retained for the one year it took to redo the hotel. Who would not want to perform for such a group?

So how does culture develop? From what I have seen, culture develops from repeated execution of habits. Behavior becomes the norm. The pattern. The culture. The way to work on culture is to work on behavior.

Dr J M Juran was once asked about changing behaviors and he answered with ABC. A is for Attitude, B for Behavior, and C is for Commitments. His view was that we waste a lot of time trying to change Attitude. It’s better to focus on getting small commitments. These commitments over a period become a pattern and become behavior. And in my view, this leads to culture.

Let’s see how this pans out in real life. Many of us want to get fitter. Having a fitness culture is important we will say. How does this happen. You can try changing this through attitude or any other means but it has limited result. Finally, it boils down to making small commitments and keeping them. That 1 mile run or 15 pushups or taking the stairs. With enough repetitions this will become our habit and over a period of time we adopt this fitness culture. Culture change, like most good things, is not overnight.