New Years Resolution

Minor in Major Things

As I continue to train people in the simple, essential methods of Lean Six Sigma, one thing is painfully clear: most people are too busy fighting fires to spend much time on fire prevention. They are "Majoring in Minor Things", not "Minoring in Major Things."

Here's my New Year's challenge to you (and myself): 
Make time to Minor in Major Things.

Crisis Junkies

In most companies, it is so much easier to fight fires and fix problems. It's so immediate and gives such a sense of accomplishment when you fix something that's a problem right now.

It's an addiction not a benefit. Like most addictions, an addict will do anything to get their next fix. In companies this means resisting improvement methods like Lean Six Sigma that eliminate the need for fire fighting.

My wife works in software development. In a recent system release, her area's software worked flawlessly. Most other groups had to work around the clock for days to correct their software bugs and failures.

Guess which groups got rewards for going the extra mile? 
You guessed it: the groups with the buggy, software failures.

More often than not, reward systems fuel the failure and fix addiction cycle.

Rewarding crisis is a mistake. Majoring in minor things like daily problems is a mistake. But you can't just stop doing them. You will have to wean yourself off the addiction.

Minoring in Major Things

If you set aside two hours a week (5% of a 40 hour work week) to work on prevention, mistake proofing and improvement, you'll make dramatic progress. Refuse to leave work until it's done.

As you reduce the daily fire fighting, you'll have more time to spend on improvement. And more benefits will accrue. Productivity and profits will climb out of their rut and head for new territory.

Minoring in Major Things

It's not particularly hard to start making improvements. You just need a little focus.

Week 1: Find or collect the data about a particularly swarmy problem. Graph it over time as a line, run or control chart.

Week 2: Use pareto charts to narrow the cause of the problem to specific processes, machines, materials, locations or whatever.

Week 3: Gather the subject matter experts about the specific aspect of the problem and analyze the root causes of the problem. Verify them with facts and figures. Develop countermeasures to address the specific problem.

Week 4: Start implementing the countermeasures. Process changes take less time. Technology changes take longer.

Week 5: Start on the next problem while monitoring the existing one.


  1. Line Graph of defects (per million opportunities)
  2. Pareto Charts of main contributors to the problem. Usually two or more levels of pareto will be necessary to find a specific problem to solve.
  3. Ishikawa diagram of root causes
  4. Countermeasures Matrix of potential solutions
  5. Results graphs (line, pareto) of improvements.

Here's My Point

Nothing will get better until we carve out time to find and prevent the root causes of mistakes, errors, defects, delay and deviation. How we choose to spend our time will determine our progress at the end of the year.

Do you want the end of 2008 to feel the same way as 2007 did? Or would you rather spend a little time on mission critical improvement projects?

Are you going to major in minor things this year, or minor in major ones? The choice is up to you.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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