Lean Six Sigma Bad
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

I need to be more serious than usual for this post. There's a strong and perhaps growing disfavor with the entire concept of Lean Six Sigma. Reasons why are plentiful, in fact too many to even list in a single post. So let's address just two of them this time around, one from each side.

On what I'll call the customer side, there is a perception that agreeing to take on a Lean Six Sigma project is a sign of weakness or failure. It means that you couldn't "get it done" yourself and have to ask for help. That can't play well in performance reviews, or succession planning, can it?

Yes, it can.

A leader willing to bring in a Lean Six Sigma Practicioner should not be seen as admitting defeat, but instead as leveraging the right resources to make an organization better. It is no more and no less than getting a subject matter expert involved to help you improve. This is no different from using Human Resources to find a new employee, or counting on an administrator to make sure things run smoothly.

There is the delicate question of receiving Lean Six Sigma "help" when you didn't ask for it; i.e. from a more senior leader who thinks that something in your organization needs to be addressed. It is more difficult to address the perception that you did or failed to do something on your own. In those cases, I recommend being as gracious as possible, keeping the leader informed, and staying positive.

Now, let's go to what I'll call the supplier side, and talk to the practitioner:

Get Over Yourself.

You are helping a team solve a problem as a guest, and not a supervisor who barks orders, demands information and acts like the boss. If you don't know what "Servant Leader" means, than go find out.

In my experience, a leading cause of failed Lean Six Sigma projects is how the practitioner acts: doesn't become familiar with the team, the environment, and the context, tosses out one tool after another without explaining their importance or their relevance, and shows off knowledge of the methodology whilst leaving everyone else's understanding behind. Oh, and puts meetings on the team's calendars with no description and no agenda. Would you want to work with such an individual? I know I wouldn't.

I've had to coach more than a few people who have exhibited what a friend of mine calls "The Barney Fife Syndrome": give someone a badge and a little bit of authority, and watch the ego inflate. (Who's Barney Fife? Look it up, kids.) A certification only means that you have demonstrated knowledge of Lean Six Sigma tools and (hopefully) their proper application. A non-trivial proportion of people in Black Belt Land learn that lesson the hard way when they're not invited back for another project... and neither is the rest of the Lean Six Sigma organization.

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