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
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.
Blanton Godfrey is dean and Joseph D. Moore professor
at the College of Textiles, North Carolina State University.
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