Lean Six Sigma for Leaders Lean Six Sigma for Leaders

Lean Six Sigma for Leaders
05 Nov 2018

By Martin Brenig-Jones and Jo Dowall

 Lean Six Sigma for Leaders book cover

Of all the known efforts to make Six Sigma sound accessible, the website 'Math Is Fun' deals with it best when it says: “I love Sigma. It is fun to use, and can do many clever things.”

The term ‘Six Sigma’ refers to a disciplined, data-driven approach to eliminating process defects using the banding of sigma values above and below a mean average - a statement that is bound to have lost a few readers already. But stick with it because all it means is that once you have managed to improve your process, if you improve it again, and again, before you know it, you will have achieved Six Sigma – in theory at least.

If only everything in life were that simple though. Achieving an environment in which this situation can occur requires hard work, dedication, persistence and normally a top-to-bottom sea-change in attitudes towards both work and colleagues.

This book tries to cover all the bases, but in doing so, the focus in some chapters becomes a little lost. The title of the book is partly to blame here. Because Six Sigma is an holistic approach that involves everyone, looking at it purely from the perspective of a leader rather defeats the object.

Knowledge management expert Ikujiro Nonaka identified that an organisation’s knowledge is created in both the area of product design and wherever the business interfaces with its customers. As a result, any effective book on Six Sigma might be better advised to start here rather than at the leadership tier.

Maybe this book is designed to give leaders an understanding of the subject. Maybe any book with the word ‘leader’ in the title sells better. But it is a shame that the focus is on leadership, as the book could best be described as a good, if basic, introduction to Six Sigma for people at all levels of the organisation.

Nonetheless, the work includes some good diagrams, explanations and acronyms: for example, a wombat is a “waste of money, brains and time”. But not everything works very effectively – for instance, some diagram sequences are likely to quickly leave inexperienced readers feeling out of their depth due to a lack of explanation.

Understanding culture

Moreover, in parts, the logic fails to stack up. In one section (page 64), the writers indicate that good ideas are generated when we relax, which can lead to a Eureka moment. While this ought to be a cue for further suggestions on how to facilitate appropriate environments to capture such ideas, the authors merely observe dryly that: “It can be difficult to rely on this method, and waiting for people to generate solutions when they’re in the shower or in bed could slow down improvements and impact on momentum”.

However, readers who persevere will be rewarded with an explanation of such nuggets such as the Tim Woods acronym for different kinds of waste (p.49) and confusion (see the figures in chapter 11), which extends to workplace behaviours.

Another point to consider is that it might have been useful to include the sources behind some of the ideas presented. For example, ‘Listening’ on page 182 is pretty much Neuro-linguistic Programming’s Active Listening technique

I would also take issue with the strong declaration on page 192, which says: “Let us state firmly here, ‘Lean Six Sigma is not a special project’.” Yes it is. Ditto the statement that follows: “It is not an opportunity to ‘bring out your dead’.” But again, yes it is. The theme of ‘openness’ is well covered elsewhere in the book, and to consider the metaphor for a moment, if you fail to bring out your dead, they will stay hidden – hardly a Six Sigma virtue.

By the end of the book though, Six Sigma actually seems to have taken a back seat as everything from learning and development to innovation, agile approaches and problem-solving is touched upon. One contributor, on being asked what advice he would give to other leaders (page 241), sums it up well, stating (in bold capital letters) “UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE OF THE ORGANISATION!!!”

In fact, culture is what the book appears to want to be about, even if the writers want in to be about Six Sigma - although in truth it could have been about any approach to quality management. They also want it to be for “leaders”, although again the approach involves everyone in the organisation.

In summary, this is an interesting book about Six Sigma, which fails to cover the subject half as clearly as it might. But the work also includes plenty of useful general management information, which ultimately makes it worthwhile having on the shelf.

Mark Northway

Mark Northway is director and courses co-ordinator at Deltic Training, which provides strategic administration and business management courses and accredited qualifications. He is a former director and trustee of the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), a chief IAM examiner and a Princes Trust Award winner for his role in business mentoring in the UK.

OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

The power of company culture

Reframing organisations

Data-driven organisation design: Sustaining the competitive edge through organisational analytics

By Martin Brenig-Jones and Jo Dowall

 Lean Six Sigma for Leaders book cover

Of all the known efforts to make Six Sigma sound accessible, the website 'Math Is Fun' deals with it best when it says: “I love Sigma. It is fun to use, and can do many clever things.”

The term ‘Six Sigma’ refers to a disciplined, data-driven approach to eliminating process defects using the banding of sigma values above and below a mean average - a statement that is bound to have lost a few readers already. But stick with it because all it means is that once you have managed to improve your process, if you improve it again, and again, before you know it, you will have achieved Six Sigma – in theory at least.

If only everything in life were that simple though. Achieving an environment in which this situation can occur requires hard work, dedication, persistence and normally a top-to-bottom sea-change in attitudes towards both work and colleagues.

This book tries to cover all the bases, but in doing so, the focus in some chapters becomes a little lost. The title of the book is partly to blame here. Because Six Sigma is an holistic approach that involves everyone, looking at it purely from the perspective of a leader rather defeats the object.

Knowledge management expert Ikujiro Nonaka identified that an organisation’s knowledge is created in both the area of product design and wherever the business interfaces with its customers. As a result, any effective book on Six Sigma might be better advised to start here rather than at the leadership tier.

Maybe this book is designed to give leaders an understanding of the subject. Maybe any book with the word ‘leader’ in the title sells better. But it is a shame that the focus is on leadership, as the book could best be described as a good, if basic, introduction to Six Sigma for people at all levels of the organisation.

Nonetheless, the work includes some good diagrams, explanations and acronyms: for example, a wombat is a “waste of money, brains and time”. But not everything works very effectively – for instance, some diagram sequences are likely to quickly leave inexperienced readers feeling out of their depth due to a lack of explanation.

Understanding culture

Moreover, in parts, the logic fails to stack up. In one section (page 64), the writers indicate that good ideas are generated when we relax, which can lead to a Eureka moment. While this ought to be a cue for further suggestions on how to facilitate appropriate environments to capture such ideas, the authors merely observe dryly that: “It can be difficult to rely on this method, and waiting for people to generate solutions when they’re in the shower or in bed could slow down improvements and impact on momentum”.

However, readers who persevere will be rewarded with an explanation of such nuggets such as the Tim Woods acronym for different kinds of waste (p.49) and confusion (see the figures in chapter 11), which extends to workplace behaviours.

Another point to consider is that it might have been useful to include the sources behind some of the ideas presented. For example, ‘Listening’ on page 182 is pretty much Neuro-linguistic Programming’s Active Listening technique

I would also take issue with the strong declaration on page 192, which says: “Let us state firmly here, ‘Lean Six Sigma is not a special project’.” Yes it is. Ditto the statement that follows: “It is not an opportunity to ‘bring out your dead’.” But again, yes it is. The theme of ‘openness’ is well covered elsewhere in the book, and to consider the metaphor for a moment, if you fail to bring out your dead, they will stay hidden – hardly a Six Sigma virtue.

By the end of the book though, Six Sigma actually seems to have taken a back seat as everything from learning and development to innovation, agile approaches and problem-solving is touched upon. One contributor, on being asked what advice he would give to other leaders (page 241), sums it up well, stating (in bold capital letters) “UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE OF THE ORGANISATION!!!”

In fact, culture is what the book appears to want to be about, even if the writers want in to be about Six Sigma - although in truth it could have been about any approach to quality management. They also want it to be for “leaders”, although again the approach involves everyone in the organisation.

In summary, this is an interesting book about Six Sigma, which fails to cover the subject half as clearly as it might. But the work also includes plenty of useful general management information, which ultimately makes it worthwhile having on the shelf.

Mark Northway

Mark Northway is director and courses co-ordinator at Deltic Training, which provides strategic administration and business management courses and accredited qualifications. He is a former director and trustee of the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), a chief IAM examiner and a Princes Trust Award winner for his role in business mentoring in the UK.

OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

The power of company culture

Reframing organisations

Data-driven organisation design: Sustaining the competitive edge through organisational analytics