Six Sigma Stigma in the Way Back Machine: September 1995 vs. 2008
Funny how times have changed. The Avery Point Group (National Recruiting Firm) reports that Lean talent demand now exceeds Six Sigma demand based on their annual study.
The study also found, for those companies seeking Six Sigma or Lean talent, fully 50 percent are looking for practitioners to have both skill sets. Well it took them long enough to figure that out. Lean is often billed as an "observation" based improvement program in stark contrast to a Sigma "data-driven" improvement program. Practitioners of both camps could use a little help from each other and become multi-skilled. We ask people in a workcell to cross train; what's good for the goose is good for the gander!
Back to this perceived decoupling of Lean and Sigma. Lean requires us to deal with the facts, but that doesn't mean we should think of them as lacking data- like attributes. One of my first projects in lean, about 10 years ago was dealing with a complaint from the GM about people traveling back and forth from the floor to the offices. After observing the symptoms for some time, I found that the travel was due to inconsistencies in the build package assembled by the engineers. Assemblers were traveling back and forth to get corrections.
The problem was difficult to convey to people: non-standardized approaches to the job of building engineering packages was causing errors, thereby causing the travel needed to get the corrections made. The assemblers saw it as a step necessary to get their job done. The engineers saw it necessary in order to get the correction made and not have the errors arise embarrassingly in morning meetings.
It wasn't until I observed the problem, figured an average travel time for correction and created a "toll booth" - that people began to take notice. Each trip was equal to about $7. Directions were simple: every time you go through the toll booth - check the sheet under the reason for your toll - a simple pareto in disguise.
Within a couple of days we had several hundred "dollars" on the tool booth check sheet posted next to the office door. After two weeks, it was easy for the engineers to justify the effort to standardize their process. No convincing was needed, they convinced themselves just by "paying" the toll. (joke of the day: a friend used to tell me he was so poor he couldn't afford to pay attention.)
Today, I've learned that part of Lean is about snooping out problems with your intuition based on observation but your plan for improvement and actions MUST be grounded in facts and conclusions derived from those observations. Check your facts and test your assumptions. This approach will lead to find more problems. Simple examples like that above can be done by anyone, but this is the problem isn't it? Not everyone is encouraged to think this way. We need to recouple this fact based thinking with our observation and common sense. i.e. Sigma+Lean.
A need for the statistical quality skills of six sigma needs to then be transferred to the shop floor where they become useful everywhere to tackle the many problems found. Stop sweating, we don't need people figuring Cp or sigma quality levels, I'm talking about simple quality tools; tick sheets, paretos, time studies, process maps. The idea here is that when you can tie the facts around the problems and solutions to human behavior & ultimately to the management systems that WE have created and maintain...you are at the next level. The best place to do this is on the shop floor where we can see the actual behavior.
But that isn't good enough for us consultants, engineers and managers. Nope, we've got to categorize and specialize and pigeon hole people. YOU are a Lean guy and SHE is the Sigma gal. This older article from fast company gives us a hint of how we look for the next best thing without fully understanding the basics.
Read on...Six Sigma Stigma - Summary: Toyota doesn't use statistics in their analysis? ;)