As an undergraduate, I took an intro to MIS course, where I first learned about swimlane diagrams and how to construct simple ones, depending upon various scenarios we were given. (I actually found one of my old Learn IT assignments, where we had to create one based off of a food ordering process. I recreated it here; however, it’s been awhile! But I think I accurately used the symbols to depict the scenario provided). Later, during one of my internships at a large financial institution, one of my team members began working on creating swimlane diagrams for each unit within the overall department. It had been deduced that the organization was very siloed, which hampered effectiveness, efficiency, implementing initiatives, and communication practices. Many people within the various units didn’t understand the function/role of the other units or how they connected to their unit or even how they all worked together within the overall department to achieve the “big picture” or mission of the organization. So the department where I was interning became the pilot to begin implementing this method to try and address these issues. Each unit would be diagrammed and then distributed to all individuals, as well as hung up in a communal space, so everyone would be able to view them. The team member going to each unit was certified in Lean Six Sigma, which was my first introduction to this certification. He allowed me to sit in on various meetings, where he spoke with those in the unit to determine their roles, the processes, their mission/function etc., so he could begin working on diagramming them.
After class discussions and reading the “Era of Quality at the Akshaya Patra Foundation” case study, which outlined how many Six Sigma projects had been implemented by the quality team, I was interested in other companies that had implemented these types of methodologies (HM, Saranga, Kumar, 2015). In my mind, implementing them would always lead to a positive outcome, but during the course of my research, when I was writing one of my posts on various companies and individuals who have implemented/applied Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma in other capacities, I realized that this is not always the case, and that implementing these types of methodologies can, in some respects, be harmful to operations or the organization overall.
I came across the article, “The Challenge of Change 3M, Six Sigma, and Corporate Culture” (Hurren, 2015). It outlined how low profitability in 2001 “prompted a change in senior leadership” which enabled Jim McNerney to become 3M’s new CEO and bring with him Six Sigma (Hurren, 2015). During his first three years, McNerney introduced Six Sigma to the entire organization, and even after he left, replacement George Buckley kept Six Sigma practices, but dropped “elements employees considered less useful or that interfered with 3M operations” which “resulted in a kind of lean Six Sigma where specific or custom elements were still in place” (Hurren, 2015). He dropped those practices because employees were frustrated and “many believed that Six Sigma was getting in the way of real invention – and that its principles were applied even in situations where they made no apparent business sense” (Hurren, 2015).
In the article “How 3M Lost (and Found) its Innovation Mojo,” author Don Peppers writes how cognitive psychologist Gary Klein argues that Six Sigma has a “significant and often overlooked downside: it does tend to reduce a company’s innovative capabilities” (Peppers, 2016). This seemed to be accurate according to Fortune Magazine, that reported (in 2006) that “91% of the large enterprises that had implemented Six Sigma had fallen behind the growth rate of the S&P 500, and blaming the phenomenon on a significant falloff in innovation at these firms” (Peppers, 2016). This ties into why Buckley altered Six Sigma practices at 3M. He wanted to “preserve the benefits of Six Sigma’s cost-cutting and efficiency-improvement efforts while simultaneously re-stimulating the creative and innovative juices at 3M” (Peppers, 2016). Employees at 3M also “supported this hybrid approach” and one 3M executive was quoted saying “We need to identify where Six Sigma works best and then increase the intensity…But where Six Sigma might not be the best approach, we need to find a better one” (Hurren, 2015).
Forbes also published an article, “Is Six Sigma Killing Your Company’s Future?” which addressed this issue and explained that although “Six Sigma and other efficiency seeking approaches can dramatically reduce variance and inefficiency in an organization” both “innovation and growth may be swept away in the process” (Smith, 2014). It explains how variance is “essential for innovation and growth” and that these measures essentially create a culture of “little to no variance” (Smith, 2014). Have any of your organizations implemented Six Sigma, Lean, or Lean Six Sigma (or other efficiency seeking approaches) and you felt it affected your organization’s innovation processes negatively? If so, how did your company/organization combat this? Did they combat or address this issue at all? Do you agree with the statement that a company with little to no variance will have trouble with growth potential? Finally, do you think that companies that implement these types of measures struggle with growth or do you think there may be other factors more prevalent within the individual companies that are causing issues with growth and it is not a byproduct of implementing these types of approaches?
HM, S., Saranga, H., & Kumar, U. (2015). Era of Quality at the Akshaya Patra Foundation. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/product/era-of-quality-at-the-akshaya-patra-foundation/IMB493-PDF-ENG
Hurren, K. (2015, July 13). The Challenge of Change 3M, Six Sigma, and Corporate Culture. Retrieved from https://nbs.net/p/the-challenge-of-change-3m-six-sigma-and-corporate-c-32af0707-79eb-46db-8fa5-77d0a664f70e
Peppers, D. (2016, May 05). How 3M Lost (and Found) its Innovation Mojo. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/linkedin/don-peppers/downside-six-sigma-don-peppers.html
Smith, R. (2014, June 11). Is Six Sigma Killing Your Company’s Future? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ricksmith/2014/06/11/is-six-sigma-killing-your-companys-future/#5fbe90ad663a