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November 16, 2010

Getting to grips with Six Sigma

Prior to last week's work, all I knew of Six Sigma was that if you were a consultant brought in to apply it, you were probably making a LOT of money. I'm glad to say I have a much greater appreciation for it now, as a useful process improvement and problem fixing tool. I like the logical, methodological, DMAIC approach (the PMI material has been great in demonstrating it to me, though I find a lot of the voices very annoying!), and wouldn't hesitate to use it in the future if I felt the situation was right.

The assignment regarding Deming's System of Profound Knowledge was really important in understanding this, and I found it quite interesting. It became clear that while Six Sigma has scope for improving an organisation, it has very little designed to help true, groundbreaking innovation occur, in my opinion. It lacks that in its inherent philosophy, as it is largely meant to make existing processes better, ie. bringing them up to levels of expectation, rather than taking them to the next level (of excitement, if we are to use Kano's model of customer satisfaction). Also, it is a very slow process from what I can see (at least a few months), and knowing when to use it, and when to just simply employ an obvious solution would be a very useful skill to have as a consultant. I take the point that you shouldn't try to mess with a system until you understand it and can account for it, but in business, it's often the quickest response to a problem that is rewarded.

The variation session was great at helping to understand this. I've always hated statistics with a passion, so seeing standard deviations used in a practical and meaningful way helped me to create knowledge out of a lot of information I knew, but never had a use for.

Generally, I really enjoyed the work of the past week. There were some longer hours involved than I would have liked (or even had time for, considering that there is a PMA, project, PMI e-learning, PIUSS pre-module assignments, and FACS pre-work to juggle, and I'm sure we will end up doing more than the 'required' 60 hrs of pre-work and module time), but the extended group discussions were often fantastic - we really got into it and had some great ideas I think. I'm certain that the amount we put in will be rewarded next week when we do the module.

All in all, it is clear that Six Sigma is an important, though not comprehensive tool, and it is highly regarded by many. I see its uses clearly, but feel that I know enough to know that it is not enough in itself to drive excellence into an organisation. As Graeme said, one thing Jack Welch (former GE CEO) said that is often overlooked by advocates, is that you must cultivate an organisational learning environment.

"An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage."

Otherwise, in my opinion, you run the DMAIC cycle once, forget that it is based on PDSA which is about going round and round the cycle, and end up with some short-term improvements that soon fade away. Which is what a lot of organisations do, and of course, if they use it badly, it's not going to work is it?!

October 27, 2010

Looking back and forward, while watching the time slip away.

There's so much to do! Has anyone else been finding this? I don't feel like I'm struggling especially, but then perhaps I haven't been tested too strongly by demands as yet! During the two CBE weeks, I had some balance, but it was tilted towards the module and course. Since it finished, my focus has shifted the other way, onto me, and my various other goals and interests. I feel like this is going to be something of a running battle throughout the year...

I haven't done nearly enough so far this week. I think that's fair enough, seeing as I worked through the weekend, and then Monday was my birthday, and I decided in advance I was going to give myself a few days off. But, filling out my year planner yesterday night gave me the requisite kick up the bum to be more productive today! Did you know, that once you fill in the modules, the study weeks, time for PMA's, and the two weeks vacation at Christmas, you are left with 16 full weeks?! (I'm not including ReMe in this). So, at the recommended 45hrs working time/week, that gives you 720 hours for a project that is meant to take 900 hours. Say you are one of those who is only taking the mandatory 9 modules (which I'm now strongly considering!), then you have an extra two weeks, or a total of 810 project hours.

I know these numbers don't mean much really, it's about whether you use that time effectively. But still, that's a huge shortfall, without making any allowances for making mistakes, or taking an extra few days holiday somewhere (which is not unreasonable), or mild illness, etc. It really makes you think back to Paul's words about time being the major currency this year, and it's certainly more than enough to make you get out of bed at 8am on a dreary autumn morning, despite having nowhere to be!

It's probably good that we asked for that extra session on time management then. I know it definitely helped me, if nothing else, to realise just how many things I try to do every week (I think it was 184hrs worth... there are just 168 in an actual week, sadly), which is probably where my problems lie. Cutting things out is hard, and making yourself do the things you had to put aside for whatever reason, even harder.

Makes you wonder if all this reflective writing is a good use of time - guess I'll have to trust Paul on this one ;-) Back to the self-assessment, study skills work, PMA prep, and project selection and application I go!

Actually, never mind... I'll do it later this evening. I want to go and play football now. This is what weekly planners were meant for!

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