The Corrupted Wheel
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.


A company which shall remain nameless is responsible for this story. I was working with a process improvement team that was, let us say, frustrated by a lack of progress. It seemed that while the proposals they made were being accepted, not much was happening. Worse, there were other changes made by leadership that were not only part of the project, but were not supported by data.

This led one particularly creative member of the team—no, not me!—to obtain an editable electronic copy of the Process Improvement Wheel that was touted as "the" way to conduct a Quality Project. Most enterprises have some version of this, with a varying number of steps. Some just use the traditional DMAIC construct (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) instead of building something customized.

Being that at this writing, it's been many years after this incident took place, I don't recall the exact verbiage on the original Process Improvement Wheel. It was something like Define Problem, Analyze Data, Define Solution, Test Solution, Implement Solution, Monitor Progress.

But my teammate, who had a plenty of experience dealing with this group of leaders, rewrote the wheel with these steps:


Define Problem
Political Posturing
Define Solution
Reward Each Other
Implement Solution
Blame Others

Question: Are you laughing or crying at this Corrupted Wheel... or both?

I'm happy to report that since the creator of this, ahem, adjusted graphic, had the ear of a Very Senior Leader, a few phone calls and meetings later the process improvement team was back on track and leaders were reminded of the wisdom of one W. Edwards Deming: "In God we trust; all others bring data."

Regrettably, it's rarely that easy. The Six Sigma Practiticioner needs to understand as quickly as possible, and ideally before a project even starts, what the belief system of leadership is, and whether it includes a commitment to whatever their company’s version of Process Improvement might be. This comes back to

Know Thy Stakeholders--again. I've found that tracing the ultimate decision path for approval of process change—be it People, Process or Technology—is a worthwhile investment of time. If too many stakeholders are more interested in how an improvement looks rather than what it actually does, the project is susceptible to the Political Posturing step.

You've also no doubt noticed that there's something missing from the Corrupted Wheel: data collection and analysis! A simple but potentially tricky question needs to be asked in that case: If you already knew what to do, why did you start a project?

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