Lean Six Sigma and My Mom

For decades now I have been in positions within companies where I was expected to deliver operational improvements through process, people and technology changes.  I have done this in Fortune 100 companies and single owner businesses.  And over the years, I have seen many different  approaches.  None of which get under my skin quite like the LEAN or Six Sigma black belt.  Trust me, I am a champion of repeatable processes that are documented, trained and verified to improve outcomes.  But it is executive reliance on outside specialists who come in, measure waste and create a three-ring binder filled with process and spaghetti maps, flow charts and daily -if not hourly- metrics to tell them there is waste, where it is and how to eliminate it that I find infuriating.  If you asked my mother to go on your plant floor, she’d probably be able to do the same thing.

You see, long before LEAN or Six Sigma ever entered my vocabulary, I learned the basics of using processes to yield complete and repeatable high quality outcomes from my mother.  Cleaning the bathroom? Start at the top. Wash lights, mirrors, shower doors and walls. Then scrub the tub, move to the toilet, and the sink and vanity. Replace towels and rugs. Finally, wash the floor as you move yourself and your cleaning supplies out the door.  Washing dishes? First comes silverware, then glasses and cups, followed by plates, serving bowls and, finally, cookware and the dirtiest items.  This keeps the cleanest water for the items with direct “in your mouth” contact and ensures that the dirtiest water is at the end.  My mom had a hundred of these processes we used whether we were picking raspberries, vacuuming the car or packing luggage.  Once you start thinking in processes, it is impossible not to think that way – even on the factory floor.

So, why has old-fashioned “doing the job right” become a multi-billion dollar world-wide business product that executives and business owners think they have to buy in order to drive productivity and efficiency into their organizations?  My guess is that they are so far removed from the day-to-day production duties of their organizations (whether it is providing health care or oil changes) that they are easy marks for consultants who tell them they can reduce waste and improve customer satisfaction with a 5-day Kaizen or Value Stream Map.  Then, they get the foremen, supervisors and people who do the actual work to give them the answers which they repackage into a program that needs to be tested, trained, rolled out and measured at $2000/day.  All of this is shrouded in a veil of 99.99966% defect-free jargon like Taguchi method, SIPOC analyses, QFD and my personal favorite: 5S  Methodology.  REALLY?  If you told my mom that a key success to efficiency and productivity in the work environment is Sorting, Straitening, Shining, Standardizing and Safety she’d give you another S: No $hit!

If your organization is embarking on an initiative to improve productivity and outcomes, take my advise:  Do it.  You need to stay competitive.  But either find someone in your organization who is ALREADY a model of continuous improvements and make them the leader of the work or get them to work very closely with one of these “black belts” for about 1 month.  In that time, they will learn all they need to understand the basics of measuring, improving and sustaining and they can start to implement the changes without the consultant by leveraging your company’s culture.  Leave the geek jargon to the $2000/day consultants who can sell their wares down the road at your competitors while you make real changes from within. THAT’s sustainable, smart and repeatable!

—–“I’m Flora’s Mom and I approve this message.”—-

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