But I Played One On TV
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

Confession time: I wasn’t always a Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. That didn’t stop me from improving processes.

You have to go all the way back to 1984 for the first use of “...but I play one on TV,” spoken by an actor who was not a doctor, but, you guessed it. The catchphrase has long outlived the television commercial (which was for a cough relief medication) and has become somewhat of a cliché.

So to borrow the phrase, I wasn’t a Black Belt, but I played one on TV. Well, not the TV part. And not quite as long ago as 1984.

My first job coming out of business school did not officially involve problem-solving at first, but it certainly turned out that way. Within a year I was in a task force charged with fixing a big logistics problem, and our first action was to tell leadership that they had the wrong problem. Once the dust settled, we used several “soft” tools and some good old fashioned analysis to solve the problem. It was my initial introduction to the Affinity Diagram, also known as “lots of stickies on a wall” (which I guarantee will be the subject of a future post). We also used the cause and effect diagram to, well, good effect, as it helped us understand what we could and could not impact. What was particularly cool about this team is that we were directed to stay together to actually implement our recommendations for process improvement!

Several positions later, I was working for a small company charged with pre-sales activity to prove the value of the software and consulting services that said company provided. This was more on the financial benefit side, but with a healthy dose of problem solving. I had plenty of opportunity to use soft skills, especially listening. Once in a while I would detour over to one of the traditional process improvement tools like brainstorming in my work with clients and prospects. Stakeholder analysis was quite critical: we needed to know how high up the organization the deal approver was. It was also reinforced how important it was to take analysis detail and make it shine for a sales presentation.

On several engagements with a client whose name you would recognize, Black Belts were in the room for meetings. I liked what I heard from them even though they were present to make sure I wasn’t putting one over on their employer with my work. “Gee, if this doesn’t work out,” I said to myself...

Several years after that, I found myself in my next company’s Black Belt Class. Some of the tools and techniques looked awfully familiar, and others were simply more structured sophisticated ways of doing what I’d been doing since I left graduate school. I hadn’t planned it that way.

And so might it be with you. Chances are that you’ve participated in or even led activities that are part of the Lean Six Sigma Practitioner’s toolbag. And you too can say, “I’m not a Black Belt, but I played one on TV.”

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