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Curing Lean Six Sigma Weak Points

Posted by Diane Kulisek on December 14, 2009

The following question was asked on LinkedIn by Bill Rushmore, Principal at Rushmore Technologies, a degreed Chemist and Engineer:

For those who have experience with Six Sigma or Lean Sigma, what is the one (or two) weak point(s) that you would fix with a Six Sigma or Six Sigma project? I am looking into how to improve Lean Six Sigma and have my own factors. I am looking for other opinions or experiences to expand the possibilities.

Diane Kulisek’s answer, one of many posted, was selected by Bill as the ‘Best’ Answer.  Here it is:

I think two things need to change:

  • 1.) There needs to be less emphasis upon the correctness of the terms used to describe what is being done and more emphasis upon doing it; and
  •  2.) There needs to be less elitism associated with those accountable for employing the methodology.

Let me say I believe that Six Sigma and Lean will continue to be terms used for at least the next five to ten years, however, I also have started to hear many of the same criticisms of “Six Sigma” and “Lean” that I used to hear in relation to “SPC”, “Quality Circles”, CPI and “TQM”. All six of these terms (Six Sigma, Lean, SPC, Quality Circles, CPI and TQM) entail top management support, problem-solving methodologies, process improvement tools, and, potentially, improved value or economy. All six of these terms could also be costly to implement. All six of these terms are subject to failure during top management changes. All six of these terms also, unfortunately, can be categorized as “fads”. When you peel back the glitzy layer of names, they are all essentially the same thing. You can garble them up with new terms to describe old concepts. You can claim that they do things differently from one another (which they certainly do, slightly). You can say that the next one made the previous one “obsolete” or old-fashioned (which is not necessarily the case)…. but the bottom line is, they all have so much in common that you can pretty much expect Six Sigma and Lean to take a nose dive the minute enough negative momentum about “THOSE words” has been achieved…. and it’s on it’s way.

My advice would be to stop using trendy words like “Six Sigma” or “Lean” and talk about the fundamental tools being used. More people will understand and the continuity will be better through the turmoil of management changes. So, that’s the language aspect of it.

Secondly, business managers were taught to beat the “quality-is-everybody’s- responsibility” drum for decades. Then, along came Six Sigma. Only the best/brightest were drafted into the Six Sigma ranks. Their grasp of finance needed to be as great (or greater than) their grasp of technology or methodology. They were subjected to extremely expensive (often) company-sponsored training programs…. out of which they emerged, with the green beret of the Six Sigma special forces. Proud and overly confident, many freshly-belted (pun intended) Six Sigma initiates blundered out into the production workspace only to be shot down by older, wiser and angrier personnel lurking in sniper positions.

 The elite division of class that is so often identified with the “Six Sigma” black belt mystique has created far more problems, in my opinion, than have been solved. In fact, I would venture to say that there are more people working to be sure a Six Sigma Black Belt falls smack dab on his or her nose than there will ever be willing to help them in an otherwise just cause. The problem is that nobody likes to be treated as a “lesser than”. Six Sigma Black Belts (and even other belt designations) seem to be taught a smugness that acts like a bullseye on their butt cheeks and foreheads.

My recommendation would be to get rid of the title. Again, focus upon the fundamental tasks being performed. Define the roles from the perspective of basic tasks. “You will be accountable for improving the performance of this process. Accordingly, you are henceforth our Process Improvement Project Manager.” EVERYbody can understand what THAT is.   Well okay, maybe not everybody…  but more than understand ‘six sigma black belt’.

What is a “Six Sigma Black Belt”? It’s an abstraction, especially for those who have NOT (nor likely ever will) been through the training to become one. Why create mystery where openness is the key to improvement? Why create an “elite class” when collaboration at all levels of the organization will be essential to creating desired change? It’s counter-productive, at best. Drive out the use of the terms “Six Sigma and Black Belt”. Use role definitions and job titles that EVERYBODY can understand… and support.

Postscript from Diane:  I suppose it might be worth mentioning that I’m actually starting to see the word ‘quality’ reappear in job descriptions, perhaps not in the titles, but in the responsibilities.  People in charge of hiring people who need to know how to use quality improvement tools and methods have not yet become quite bold enough to venture that a rose is a rose by any other name, but they have begun using ‘other’ terms to avoid using “six sigma’, ‘lean’ or ‘lean sigma’ in many of the more recent position descriptions I’ve been seeing on the open job market.  Examples of ‘new’ quality-related titles include: “Continuous Improvement Project Manager”, “V.P. Organizational Excellence” and “Director of Business Performance Reporting”.  It is …. a start.


Posted in Blogroll, Day-to-Day Observations, Philosophy and Metaphysics, Quality-Related LinkedIn Answers, Social Commentary, Tools and Methods, Science and Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What ELSE to Do While Looking for Work

Posted by Diane Kulisek on September 13, 2009

jobhuntOkay, I’ve been laid off, again.  I almost made it a year this time… but no.  It was not to be.  At the end of August, I was on my own, again.  My heart goes out to those who remained behind to struggle through the challenges of a manufacturing company under seige by the current economy.  Nonetheless, I am faced with the challenge of surviving while trying to find my next best source of livelihood.

I don’t really know what one should do, aside from seek employment, while unemployed… but I can share what I have decided to do with you.  Perhaps you’ll find some part of it useful.

Firstly, I let myself grieve a bit… but not long.  It brought me a sort of spiritual closure.  I reconciled myself with what I had done (or not done) that might have led to my being let go while others were retained.  Happily, I concluded that I had done the best I knew to do, regardless of whatever others may have thought of those efforts.  I am always adding new ways to do things better to my knowledge base, but I am certain that I gave everything I had to give to my last employer and that what I gave was more than many others could have given (or will be able to give).  That understanding has brought me inner peace and the confidence to move forward with a positive attitude about what I have to offer my next employer.  I can now add my experience from one more company, one more industry, one more unique set of business cirumstances, to those I can bring to bear on my next job. 

After the grieving was over, I turned my attention to my personal affairs, which had, unfortunately, been somewhat neglected while I was working for somebody else.  I filed for unemployment benefits, I completed the COBRA application, I updated my resume and my LinkedIn profile.  I’m getting my documentation in order to renew my professional certifications through the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which, as luck would have it, are due for renewal this year, I sorted out the other piles of paperwork waiting to be attended to in my home and began doing the things I needed to do to resolve each situation. 

I’ve reviewed and adjusted my budget, such as it is, to best deal with the fixed income I’ll receive through unemployment insurance until I find my next gig.  It will not, of course, cover my most basic current expenses, even with significant belt tightening, but I can survive awhile longer than might otherwise seem possible with some careful maneuvering.

I’m updating my on-line presence, as this blog post evidences.  My websites will be updated next.

I let those closest to me know of my predicament which, over the past week,  has rewarded me with lots of well-wishing phonecalls, introductions for new potential opportunities or alliances and many, many encouraging emails.  I was even able to enjoy lunch (and a few hours of impromptue bible study, at her request) with a new professional colleague… who lives walking distance from my home (the result of an introduction from another professional colleague on LinkedIn).  We’ll be working together on a possible on-line CAPA tracking application soon, hopefully.

I also, reluctantly, bowed out of the most costly and time-consuming volunteer activities I had committed to for the American Society for Quality (ASQ).  Unfortunately, that meant resigning from most of my leadership roles.  I’m holding onto the Quality Advocacy position for San Fernando Valley Section of ASQ, only.  This will better enable me to focus my time and money on job seeking… while better conserving my more limited resources.  It is amazing how much time can get sucked into volunteer activites…. if we let it happen.  I was getting over 50 emails a day, most days, relating to volunteer activities.  Most wanted time, money or both.  Now, that has slowed down to a trickle.  There are new, better, ways for me to make contributions to my professional community, during this time of unemployment.  Posting this blog is one of them.

I made a daily “to do” list, as well as set some longer term goals… using the task manager feature in MS Outlook.  On my daily task list are things intended to improve my visibility to prospective employers, such as:

  • sending out at least two resumes for new opportunities per day;
  • updating at least one job board profile per day;
  • answering all emails and phone calls from recruiters and prospective employers, daily;
  • posting a new blog entry (here) each day;
  • answering one or two LinkedIn questions, email questions or commenting on web-based discussions each day; and
  • reaching out by offering at least one public presentation, registering to attend a professional development meeting or workshop, enrolling in a free webinar or writing an article for publication, per day.

There are also some ‘to do list’ items intended to maintain or enhance my attitude, enthusiasm and general quality of life, despite the horrors of poverty and impending doom associated with unemployment.  Among these are:

  • attend to personal dental and other healthcare needs;
  • meet with, talk with or write emails back and forth with at least one friend or family member per day;
  • take at least 10 minutes per waking hour (on average) to do something relaxing, like reading a book, watching a movie clip, listening to music, taking a walk, playing with my pets or meditating;
  • Set aside at least 1 hour per day to ‘play’ or do something creative, like playing a game that makes me think, or developing a game for the Quality Warrior website, drawing/painting, archery, dancing, writing for fun (poetry, fiction), taking photographs, creating a collage, etc.;
  • Take at least 1 hour per day to clean, straighten and unclutter my home or attend to my yard;
  • Get dressed as though I may need to dash out the door for an interview at any moment, each weekday morning (no working in PJ’s except on weekends!);
  • Get 6 hours of sleep out of every 24 hour period (this is almost unheard of for me, because those close to me know I’ve never been able to sleep more than about 3 hours per night, but I’m finding I think much more clearly the next day when I take a nap or two during the day and sleep through those 3 hours at night); and
  • Eat a healthy breakfast (I usually have oatmeal or toasted oats with skim milk and fruit), a light lunch and a satisfying dinner each day.

I have not yet figured out what to do for excercise, although walking, dancing, playing with my pets, archery and housework all involve elements of that.  I sorely need to find something that works well for me in this department.  Heh.  I’m open to new ideas.

Along with my ‘to do list’, I have a less formal (more philosophical) ‘don’t list’.  Here are the things I think are on it, so far:

  • Don’t try to blame anybody else for my current plight;
  • Don’t focus upon what I may or may not have done wrong or may be doing wrong (focus on what I have done right and am doing right, instead);
  • Don’t let anybody tell me I need to be anything other than what and who I am, and especially, don’t let anybody convince me to hide my knowledge or experience because I might seem too ‘over-qualified’ or ‘intimidating’;
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new or different (take qualified risks);
  • Don’t let people with jobs treat me disrespectfully just because I don’t have a job at this moment, yet;
  • Don’t tolerate employment-related discrimination, harassment or unfairness;
  • Forgive, but don’t trust people who have proven themselves untrustworthy in the past;
  • Don’t forget to help others along the way; and
  • Don’t forget to express my gratitude for the wonderful things in my life, everyday.

I’m sure I’ve probably left a lot of stuff out while improvising this message.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what to do while looking for work… and I’m sure others would, as well.  We can help ourselves best by helping each other.  Please send me a note or post your thoughts.

Posted in Day-to-Day Observations, Social Commentary | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Jobs Abundant Enough to Be Annoying

Posted by Diane Kulisek on May 23, 2007

Help WantedI received an email this morning from a recruiter looking for three clinical trial pros to fill positions with six-figure salaries. One of the positions was home-based. Although I have done validation work to support device manufacturers for clinical trial applications, I have not managed clinical trials, myself. Accordingly, I tapped into my network of fellow quality practitioners who might. The first response I got was that such opportunities were causing email clog and tended to be designated as “spam”. I’m not quite sure why people seem to be closed to learning about opportunities such as these, but I’m sure it must be complex. For my own purposes, I have tended to be open and forthcoming… but then, I’m sitting at home writing a blog post and the person who wrote me is probably in an airport on his way to some demanding audit. I can say that I have been turning away invitations from recruiters who want to join my LinkedIn(tm) network. Why? Because I received complaints from a few of my best contacts that they were being hounded by recruiters and wanted to end their alliance with me as a result. I’m not sure what all is going on because I’ve had a heck of a time finding that “ideal fit” to woo me from the world of self-employment and back into the workplace as a regular employee. Maybe we’re all being a bit too picky. The good news is, the jobs are out there. They seem to be abundant enough to be annoying. Who can’t get a smile or two out of that?

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