October 09, 2007
SIX SIGMA UNRAVELLED: The Gotta Have a Process Blues

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One of my favorite clients of all time was a key manager in a very prominent Fortune 500 company. She was smart. She was funny. She was creative. And she was kind. Then her company adopted Six Sigma. I couldn't help but notice that soon after this she started becoming uncharacteristically cranky, not unlike the way an artist gets upon filling out a tax form. When I asked her how the Six Sigma initiative was going, she rolled her eyes and mumbled something about "going through the motions."

Intellectually, of course, she understood its value. But her longstanding success as a manager and business leader went far beyond the intellect. Intuitively, she knew what Einstein -- the master of the intellect -- had said years ago when he noted that, "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts."

In a recent online Business Week posting, Brian Hindo lucidly deconstructs some of the flawed assumptions of the Six Sigma approach:

"The very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context," explains Hindo, "can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you'd like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on -- or you don't even know the nature of the problem you're trying to define?

"New things look very bad on this scale," says MIT Sloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel, who has worked with 3M on innovation projects that he says 'took a backseat' once Six Sigma settled in. "The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, the more it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation," adds Vijay Govindarajan, a management professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different."


And so, dear Heart of Innovation readers... in honor of all people who have ever questioned the long-term value of Six Sigma... in honor of all the people who have understood that increasing -- not decreasing -- variability is often the key to success, it is my utmost pleasure to make my graceful exit from this latest blog posting with the immortal, finger-snapping, toe-tapping, knee-slapping, put-on-your-blues-hat-and-sunglasses lyrics to....

THE GOTTA HAVE A PROCESS BLUES

I woke up this morning,
put both feet on the floor,
but I didn't have a process
to find the bathroom door,
so all I did was shuffle,
first the left foot, then the right,
forgot to count the tiles,
(hey boss, I ain't too bright.)

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.
Lord, I need a chart and graph to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.

Back when we were kids
the only processed thing was cheese,
now we need a process
every single time we sneeze,
I say "achoo," I blow my nose,
I try to get it right,
my Black Belt says my charts don't flow,
not once a gesundheit.

I make no mistakes,
I do everything right --
to make sure nothing breaks,
I stay up all night,
I'm a Six Sigma cowboy
cutting cycle time in half,
I measure every joke
and the way it makes me laugh.

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty,
a fishbone diagram would be so cool to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.

I barely make a boo boo, I rarely blow a deal,
you might call it voo doo, but that's just how I feel,
I'm one in a million
though my defects number three,
I log on while I'm sleeping
and I've changed my name to "E."

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.

Blind Willy Nilly
AKA Mitch Ditkoff

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at October 9, 2007 10:10 PM

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