If Six Sigma Is So Easy, Why Isn"t Everyone Doing It?

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At the 2009 National Association for Healthcare Quality conference, I gave a speech on lean Six Sigma simplified.
At the end of the session, one of the attendees asked, "If Six Sigma is so easy, why isn't everyone doing it?" My answer: Because we've made it too complicated, expensive, and hard to learn.
Seth Godin, author of Unleashing The Ideavirus (Hyperion, 2001), says: "Ideas that spread, win.
" Six Sigma has been spreading, but slowly, at great expense and mainly in large companies.
How can the quality community make Six Sigma easier to spread? Let me begin with a story.
A woman I know went on a date with a man she'd just met.
He took her on a picnic where they had to walk up a trail onto a small hill with a view of the foothills.
I saw her recently and she was still dating the same man.
She told me, "I don't know how it happened, but six months later I was standing on top of an 800 foot pinnacle in Utah after a free climb.
" Her date was smart enough to know that he couldn't take her free climbing on the first date.
He had to gradually introduce her to increasingly more difficult climbs, technical gear, and so on.
With each success, she built confidence that led her, six months later, to the top of a pinnacle.
Unfortunately, in Six Sigma, we seem to have forgotten that the average Joe or Susie has a deep seated fear of math, statistics, and technology.
Instead of taking them on a picnic up a small hill, we throw them into weeks of Green Belt or Black Belt training.
We spend days trying to teach them to use complex statistical software to do hypothesis testing and all manner of technical problem-solving tools.
Let's face it; in search of big profits from training, consultants have made Six Sigma too complex, too time-consuming and too expensive for most businesses or people.
Rather than lowering the bar to entry, we've raised the bar to ridiculous heights creating a high priesthood of statistical know-how that is largely unnecessary.
Variation isn't that important anymore In Ideavirus, Godin observed that 20 years ago, the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 made something that you could hold in your hands.
Today, only 32 make things you can hold.
The other 68 traffic in ideas.
That means that all of the emphasis on analysis of variation, which is so important in manufacturing, is largely unnecessary and overkill for two-thirds of U.
S.
businesses.
Maybe it still matters in China or Malaysia, but not here.
Forcing everyone to climb that pinnacle of knowledge to join the elite priesthood is a foolish waste of time and money.
The long tail of methods and tools Like any other methodology, a handful of methods and tools will solve most problems.
But there's a long tail of methods and tools that will be used more and more rarely.
Teaching people all of these methods and tools is a waste of time.
From a lean perspective, it's overproduction.
Whether businesses are involved in manufacturing or services, all are transaction-based, meaning they rely on orders, invoices, purchases, payments, and so on.
The only tools you need to know to handle these kinds of problems are control charts, Pareto charts and fishbone diagrams...
in that order.
But aren't control charts complex, you might ask? Not if you don't make people learn all of the formulas for every kind of chart.
You don't need to know the formulas; you just need to know how to read the chart.
Aren't control charts hard to create? Not with modern SPC software.
PC-based software will handle the math and draw the graph.
It will highlight all of the out-of-control signals so that you can get on with doing your job.
Training people in control chart formulas is a waste of time.
But don't you have to know what chart to choose, you might ask? I'd say yes, when you get more confident, but not initially.
I found that after hours of teaching people how to navigate a control chart selection tree, they still weren't confident picking a chart.
That's why I added a Control Chart Wizard to the QI Macros SPC Software.
It will look at your data and pick the best chart.
Alan Kay, a well-known techno-wizard, said that a technologist's job is to figure out how to make technology so cheap, easy to use, and ubiquitous that anybody can use it and it propagates around the world into every possible niche.
Most of the user interfaces for today's SPC software force users to clean their data, get it into columns, and tell the software everything it needs to know before it will draw a chart.
Software like QI Macros takes whatever data is selected, cleans it up, reorients it and draws a chart.
Make it simple, then it will stick Tom DeMarco, one of my favorite software authors, said that "making something complex seem simple is a huge intellectual feat.
" While it's fascinating to watch intellectual battles over statistics between Forrest Breyfogle and Donald Wheeler, as we saw recently here in Quality Digest, it gives the average employee little hope.
If these two can't agree, they think, how am I going to be able to defend my analysis? Make no mistake about it; if someone confidently challenges the average employee's choice of chart or data, they end up fighting an unwinnable battle.
This is another one of the ways that we hamper the spread of lean Six Sigma, by making people feel stupid.
All we've done with Six Sigma is take something simple and make it annoyingly complex, which prevents it from propagating around the world and into every possible niche.
This is what brothers Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, Made to Stick (Random House, first edition, 2007), call the "curse of knowledge.
" Isn't it time to start focusing on the essential lean Six Sigma methods and tools so that we can take everyone on a picnic up a hill, so that someday soon, they will all be able to climb the pinnacles of quality?
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