Six Sigma and more: Principles, people, process, and proportion

David SchwinnThis month’s column offers lists of those skills, knowledge, abilities, and attitudes that David Schwinn recommends for Six Sigma professionals.

My wife, Carole, and I were recently having our regular “breakfast with Peter.” Peter Norlin is the previous president of the OD Network, a national association of organizational development professionals. Besides being a wonderful friend, Peter is one of the more brilliant OD professionals anywhere, a lot of fun to share time with, and, luckily, someone who we can meet by driving only about 40 miles. (That’s pretty good, since we live in the middle of nowhere.)

The conversation turned to Peter’s observation that the international OD community is in an ongoing discussion about who they are and what they should be doing. Since much of the community is split between folks who are situated in the OD section inside the human resources department of organizations and those who are outside consultants who work with anyone in an organization, from the top management team to a work team to everyone in the organization, the split makes some sense. The conversation with Peter reminded me of my own experience.

In my MBA program, I took no OD courses. I never even heard of OD. From my life as an engineer, I knew how to solve problems. In retrospect, I knew how to solve some problems. After many years at General Motors and Ford in various engineering and executive positions, I found myself part of the small world headquarters team at Ford chartered to turn around our life-threatening loss of market to Japanese automakers, mostly Toyota. In response to what Toyota seemed to be doing differently, we committed to producing quality cars and to a new management philosophy we called Participative Management/Employee Involvement. That effort helped, but we needed to do more.

We then saw the NBC White Paper, “If Japan can, Why Can’t We?” That took us to Dr. W. Edwards Deming, with a focus on the use of statistics. As part of that new commitment, I was given a two-year leave to help community colleges gain the capacity to teach what we had learned at Ford. That included both the new interpersonal and the new statistical approaches to management. As I trained trainers in all those community colleges, I noticed that most of the folks we trained seemed to have natural strengths in either the people side of the work or on the statistical side of the work. Very few people had strengths on both sides. In some ways, the dilemma that the OD community faces is the same dilemma I found as I tried to train community college educators those many years ago. Here’s the rest of the story.

I left Ford after my leave was up. After about 20 years of training trainers and working with all kinds of folks in all kinds of organizations and communities around the world, I was offered a position at Lansing Community College to teach, among other things, Organizational Development. When I opened the textbook, I concluded that the work Carole and I had been doing the last 20 years was actually OD work. In my mind, then, Six Sigma is one of many processes that fall under the umbrella of OD. Not everyone agrees with me.

Going back to the dilemma I found when most folks seem to naturally focus on either the people side of improvement or the statistical side, I thought that you and your colleagues may be facing the same kind of dilemma with your Six Sigma efforts. This month’s reflections are a list of the skills, knowledge, abilities, and attitudes that I think any Six Sigma professional should have. They follow:

Principles focused

  • Deming’s Chain Reaction
  • Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge
  • Deming’s 14 Points
  • Deming’s 7 Deadly Diseases
  • Ackoff and Gharajedaghi’s Theory of Interactive Management and Design
  • Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory
  • Systems thinking

People focused  

  • Active listening
  • Facilitation
  • Training
  • Compassion
  • Circle
  • Open space technology
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Brainstorming
  • Coaching
  • Dialogue

Process focused

  • Plan-Do-Study-Act
  • Lean and just-in-time analysis
  • Kaizen
  • Interactive design
  • System improvement
  • System standardization
  • Hoshin planning or strategic quality planning
  • Cause and effect diagrams
  • Affinity diagrams
  • Flow chart
  • Force field analysis
  • Delphi technique
  • Relations diagram
  • Systematic diagram
  • Gantt and PERT charts
  • Causal loop analysis
  • Fool proofing
  • Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Nominal group technique

Proportion focused

  • -R, -R, X-MR, P, NP, C, and U Control Charts
  • Pareto analysis
  • Scatter plots
  • Data gathering
  • Check sheets
  • Histograms
  • Run charts
  • Operational definitions
  • Capability analysis

A colleague and friend of mine, Melvin Villarreal, created a scale for self-assessment of these kinds of skills, knowledge, abilities, and attitudes several years ago. They follow:

  1. I do not have a clue
  2. I have heard of it
  3. I understand it
  4. I can explain it
  5. I can apply it or demonstrate it
  6. I can teach it to others
  7. I know how to use it for continual improvement

Here’s a suggestion. Assess yourself on this set of skills, knowledge, abilities, and attitudes. My guess is that you score high on all the proportion-focused ones. If you do, keep up the good work, and share the results of your work and your knowledge with others. If you find some items in the list that you’d like to improve in your self-assessment, learn about and apply them. They are not rocket science. Ask around, take a class, find a mentor, read a book, or even just google them.

As always, I treasure your questions and comments. In this particular case, I’d really love to hear what I’ve missed or even what’s on the list that you don’t find particularly useful and why.

One thought on “Six Sigma and more: Principles, people, process, and proportion

  1. Great list that covers the what and the how. But without the “why” that describes the outcomes from applying the methods and tools, quality improvement likely to remain on the backburner for many.

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