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Columnist: A. Blanton Godfrey

Photo: A. Blanton Godfrey


Multiple Methodologies
Integrated management systems make best use of new tools.

A. Blanton Godfrey


During the past few months a common theme has appeared in almost every quality management article I’ve read or conference I’ve attended: how to integrate two hot topics (X and Y) in quality management. Sometimes X and Y are lean thinking and Six Sigma. Alternatively, X and Y could be supply chain management and Six Sigma. Other organizations have gone further and integrated X, Y and Z, for example, Six Sigma, lean thinking and kaizen. There are even companies that have integrated not only X, Y and Z but also A, B, C and more. One company has combined Six Sigma, supply chain management, Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria assessments, ISO 9001:2000 registration, kaizen and lean thinking.

Are these companies being ridiculous? Not really. By labeling their hybrid management approaches, they’re reminding the entire organization of the wealth of methods and tools available to solve problems, grow revenue, satisfy customers, and innovate and invent. All these methods have value, and each methodology brings to the table new tools that offer better ways to solve existing problems. What are these methodologies, after all? They’re nothing more than names given to a collection of tools and scripted processes for applying the tools at the right time and place.

Originally, companies created many of these labels to designate the collection of tools and methods they were currently using. In 1985 Motorola named its major quality initiative Six Sigma after the company added so many new methods to its approach that the borrowed Japanese term “total quality control” no longer seemed adequate. Other names come from best-selling books. For example, in their widely read The Machine that Changed the World (HarperCollins, 1991), James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos described best practices discovered in their seminal work in the automobile industry. Many of these practices were created or implemented by Toyota in what the company calls the Toyota Production System. In their sequel, titled Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Womack and Jones describe this methodology in more detail. Many organizations around the world now call these methods collectively “lean management,” “lean thinking” or simply “lean.”

Often the new names and combinations arise either from an organization’s desire to create its own approach or because it adopts an outside expert’s label. These names are usually harmless, but if they downplay the wealth of other material, books, Internet sites, software and support available, they can damage the organization’s entire quality effort and confuse its employees. New methods hyped as the solution to all problems are particularly harmful. No methodology will solve all our problems or create all our new products. We’re always inventing new and better ways to do things; the trick is to understand these new methods quickly and integrate them into our management processes.

The reasons for combining these methods are many. Sometimes organizations want to emphasize their new approach, so they come up with a name to catch everyone’s attention. After the initial emphasis, training period and early results, they decide to combine approaches to make life easier for employees. A good example is Honeywell’s recent effort to combine Six Sigma and lean thinking. In an article in the February issue of Six Sigma Forum, William J. Hill, who directs Honeywell’s Six Sigma Plus Master Belt Program, and Willie T. Kearney Jr., corporate director of lean enterprise of Honeywell International, describe how these two methodologies share many tools but also offer unique capabilities to move the company forward.

Some companies are working diligently to identify situations in which these methods work best. They’re creating guidelines indicating when the kaizen approach would solve small problems quickly vs. when a Six Sigma Black Belt should lead a team of specialists for permanently keeping a situation under control. More sophisticated companies are working hard to determine when the problem-solving methodologies of DMAIC Six Sigma are appropriate vs. when they should take the design for Six Sigma approach to develop new products or processes.

Combining all of these tools and methodologies can be like mixing chemicals. The process might produce something new and wonderful or an unmanageable mess or even an explosion. As with many chemical processes, perhaps we need a catalyst, a knowledgeable expert who understands all the methods and can advise us as to what works where. This expert should understand the many overlaps and redundancies--often hidden by new jargon--and reduce the confusion of terms and tools to the bare minimum. However, finding this person might be difficult, and the right approach may be to create one’s own. Cross-training internal leaders in the multiple methodologies or creating steering teams representing all the methods can reduce overlaps, create basic material sets and software, and provide excellent guidance to senior management.

About the author

Blanton Godfrey is dean and Joseph D. Moore professor at the College of Textiles, North Carolina State University. Letters to the editor regarding this column can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.