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Lean and SixS - who's chewing the fat?

Updated: Jan 20

Swearing by Lean is like cleaving to religion - belief can make it work, but the evidence is hypothetical. At the turn of the millennium Six Sigma drove a wedge between process analysis and social responsibility, drowning CSR under a tsunami of productivity promises. Did any of this lead to sustainable improvements? In your experience, was the investment worth the return?


Sometimes a new technology comes along that makes things easier for everyone, that in its earliest form is a saving grace. A great example of this is the WMS (warehouse management system) template. Originally, it was simple and extremely effective. Over time, with add-ons and upgrades, it became unwieldy and unreliable. In its early days, you could see what was happening in your yard, know the movements of your drivers, track the contents of your warehouse and co-ordinate everything through one time-efficient, in-house programme. Now, you can track your national fleet, create inventories for your stock flow, and be subjected to regular crashes of the remote server that bring your operation to a standstill for hours on end.


Kaizen was the forerunner of all modern process-led initiatives, made famous by Toyota in the 1980s; during its conception in WWll it involved the grass roots of a company in finding 'change for good' (the literal interpretation of 'kaizen'). Adulterated over the years since its mainstream adoption, the concept began to deal cards centred on analysis and control, edging out the involvement of key personnel on the shop floor and placing accolades in the hands of management teams. These new ideologies sold well, appealing to executive brand fans, but the essence of effectiveness was effectively lost in translation.


Today, you can chew the fat over which aspects of your plant ought to be more efficient and determine where quality needs a review, but you cannot replace the dynamo of Kaizen as it was meant to be - a platform for co-operative creativity that the people doing the work are responsible for maintaining. And it's not enough these days to usher in a directive and hope it'll stick. People are more attuned to personal welfare, to their needs as individuals, and they want to work for people who value them, who care how they feel, are prepared to contribute to their wellbeing and do their best to make sure that it's good to come into work every day. To make good change sustainable, you must look to the future of your employees, their personal empowerment, the loyalty that comes with alignment, the efficiency born of engagement.


William Deming was a young statistician in the days following cessation of the second world war, and he was tasked by the US military with rolling out a self-managing performance strategy to make rebuilding and reconstruction more achievable in the aftermath. He brought the common denominators down to earth, and devised a template for strategic improvement that was simple, intelligible and efficient.


I'll take here to quoting American mentor David Loveridge - 22 years in business practice management should give him an empirical edge:

"Deming’s four-step process was churned into the overly bloated 6-Sigma business model, summarized in a manual which requires a strong man to carry it off — it is about 4 inches thick at last check, and is utterly impenetrable.

It really is; a 50-cal armor-piercing shell will make it only about half-way thru.

Not being satisfied with that, the 6-Sigma scheme was goosed once more, to produce the ISO-9000 standard, which is even more ghastly.

This in turn has gone through several more iterations, each more obtuse than the last. Deming understood — simple is good, and the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen does it honor."


To really ensure sustainable progress, you're going to have to return to the bedrock of human endeavour against a backdrop of brewing storms in global economy. To survive, nay flourish, in the depths of such uncertainty, you have to embrace the science behind the workings of mentality, what makes a human want to commit, which buttons to press for positive outcomes and what negativity really looks like when you shine a light on it. You might want a head start in mapping a course for continuous improvement with guaranteed outcomes, and I can help you with that. Not many providers will guarantee their work, because they can't be sure your investment is going to pay off. But I've got empirical proof that WorldLine strategies work, and I'm prepared to back that up so that you don't have to take risks. Win-win, for everyone concerned.





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