Six sigma feedback

In the last issue I invited comments about six sigma from practitioners. I got feedback from a number of consultants (glad they take my newsletter) but this was all along the lines of ‘its OK if you do it right’. I don’t doubt some improvements will be achieved by simply focussing resource and effort, but does the intervention change the system? Does the intervention require a change in management thinking?

Those within organisations agreed that the training was excessive. I had time to kill in a client’s organisation the other day and found myself sitting at a desk that had four huge six sigma training manuals – one for each week of a course, so I couldn’t stop myself reading them. Tons of training in tools. It made me reflect… I have never trained a tool in my life. No content on how to study how the work works… I do lots of that. You don’t need tools, you need perspective.

One correspondent said the following:

“I had to chuckle about your comments on 6 Sigma, it looks like we share the same cynicism. I’m supposedly an accredited 6 Sigma Black Belt working for [Company x]. My opinion is that Sigma is a sledgehammer to crack a nut – rocket science gone mad! I agree that the consults have and aggressively push the benefits of Sigma for their own gain. To me [company x] have been had!”

Another correspondent writes:

“Re your comments on 6-sigma – I totally agree. The whole thing is a three-ring circus pushed by a bunch of avaricious consultants – but it may be collapsing. A friend of mine works for a large national company. The 6-sigma program was first announced as for the elite few who were going to lead the company into the promised land. When the ‘elite few’ turned thumbs down on participating (they recognized a losing cause when they saw one) they then asked for volunteers across the company – still no takers. The final push – just before the company filed for bankruptcy protection – was to tell a bunch of middle managers that they must attend & that not to do so would be a career-limiting move. And guess who was behind the 6-sigma project? – GE Capital. Our company had huge equipment leases financed by GE Capital and some payments would be forgiven if they used GE’s 6-sigma program.”

And a systems thinker I respect wrote:

“I particularly enjoyed your six sigma thoughts. I have always been sceptical of the idea. In particular, the starting implication/assumption that ALL data are normally distributed, and even beyond six sigma! Of course, this is nonsense for all practical data involving human operations (engineering, etc.), as well as most naturally-occurring data. How dare you criticise Jack Welch? You will have lost all credibility in the management schools and consultancies.”

That’s OK then.

ISO 9000 stalling in Japan

A Japanese correspondent writes: “ISO9000 registrations are showing decline in Japan. It shows many people in Japan have experienced its wasteful documentation and demoralisation of working people. Recently a famous Japanese ISO9000 consultant said about 2 or 3 % of certified organisations may be successful, 90% unsuccessful.” Amazing how coercion (‘you comply or we won’t buy’) obviates learning. ISO 9000 will die when the coercion stops.
No problems on the Japanese trains

The correspondent also wrote: “There have been no accidents resulting in injury or death on the Shin-Kansen [train operator] for forty years. The reasons are in the design: no crossing of trains and no confirmation of safety by human visual cues, they are replaced by automatic electronic and mechanical cues.”

And what did our ministers do? Fragment the system, imposing targets and fines to further guarantee fragmentation and when it fails (and people die) spend money on allocation of blame. Safety (and performance) is a design issue. Now UK train managers are being charged with corporate manslaughter. But where does the blame really lie? Will any of this improve the system?

Health care set to go downhill in Germany

A correspondent writes:

“I am a doctor working as Neuro Psychiatrist in South-West Germany, where the government is just trying to ‘modernize’ our heath system. One cornerstone of government reform and the new health insurance system will be ‘quality management’ based on the ISO 9000 standard, which I think will be a burdensome catastrophe for the doctors and patients. A kind of new ‘Potemkin villages’, i.e. the ‘production’ of fake accomplishments written on paper ‘ will be the result and our job that till now was done in a complex and very fast-changing medical world will become much more difficult .By the time we have ‘written down procedures ‘ and implemented the ‘controlling processes’ many of them will be outdated already. Not to speak of the time consuming process of ‘controlling the process’ itself that spoils one of our scarcest resources: time, we need for our patients.

It is sad to see that after the crumbling of an inefficient centrally planned economy in the east of Europe and of our country the idea of a state run, centrally controlled health system, steered by command and control health sowjets, is called “modernizing the health sector’.”

Dr Ian Bogle, in his last speech as chair of the British Medial Association made a scathing attack on the UK government’s specifications and targets regime. He gave plenty of evidence of the distortions to clinical practice and the consequential impact on health care. The following day the Prime Minister’s office made it clear the regime is here to stay. The sooner we vote these people out of office the better for all of us. It really is a life or death issue.

The minister should change the measures

Last month in a radio interview, the new Secretary of State for Health, said: “The patient comes first. That must be the fulcrum and benchmark of all our measures”.

Then he must change his measures if that is what he truly believes. Doctors and nurses are only too aware that government targets are distorting the system and damaging patient care. The other government intervention – clinical protocols – is both dumbing down the profession and preventing good clinician-patient relations. These are the measures government has introduced; they are serving to do exactly the reverse of the minister’s claim.

The new man will achieve nothing without removing much of what his predecessor put in place. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Intelligent management?

A reader sent me this; apparently it appeared on an Internet site recently:

“Intelligent Finance, Halifax’s online bank, is using a computerised Employee appraisal system to assess staff on a daily basis. It is monitoring around 950 call centre employees across three sites with the new system, the results of which link to bonus payments. Many criteria are used, including productivity and the number of calls that are converted into sales. Not only can staff check their own performances during the day but they can compare them with those of their colleagues and the whole team”.

But what do managers know about variation? Are ‘success’ and ‘failure’ just-as-probable events? In every case that I have studied I have found more variation attributable to the system – the way the work works – than people. To hold people accountable in this way is to demoralise them and cause them to ‘cheat’ which only makes things worse. Moreover I have found that agents’ behaviour makes no difference to sales. Sales are, in fact, a lottery. The evidence for all this – and what does influence sales – is all in my new book, which is being published in the next couple of months.

A spokeswoman for IF said:

‘It also gives them the opportunity to input particular reasons as to why they are not performing as well on a particular day. They are not judged on a flat sheet’.

Oh that’s OK then. I wonder what it is like working there. I guess managers spend their time managing people and people spend their time ‘inputting reasons’, making excuses and so on. It is complete waste of time. It is far better to have managers working on the system and agents in control of the daily work. It makes for better service, better sales and better morale.

The spokeswoman tells us:

‘It has been wholeheartedly embraced. Everyone has been involved in implementation and there is a lot of buy-in from staff’.

I’m sure that’s what she thinks. But I have my doubts.

Lean Fundamentals – a new programme from Vanguard

We have been working with large clients in the UK who are changing their systems (the way they design and manage work) using our methods. Some clients wanted a ‘training event’ and I refused because training doesn’t change the system. After protracted discussions – and to cut a long story short – I wrote “Lean Fundamentals”. It is an action-learning design; I knew that ‘seeing it’ for themselves in their system would at least make participants cooperative when the change came along. It worked. We knew some would try to go it alone but took the view we could shape them later. Some people tried stuff, got into trouble and asked for help.

But we didn’t foresee another outcome: some were sold simply on the concepts and their value. It was, effectively, a self-scoping exercise; people saw their organisational reality from a different (systems) point of view and could see the value these ideas could bring in terms of improving performance and morale.

Many people attend our public events, leave with enthusiasm, and they share this enthusiasm with their peers and bosses. Often these people call me to say their peers and bosses think they have lost their marbles. It is ever thus – how can you explain different thinking to a mind that is pre-disposed to a different world view? If you take Lean Fundamentals, at least you will have twelve people who have ‘lost their marbles’!