Primitive Cultures

When someone mentions the aborigines of Australia or the bushmen of Africa, it's easy to think: "How primitive!" But businesses around the world aren't much more advanced than these cultures. Businesses often rely on "head men" or rain makers (the shamans of business) to deliver the profits. 

Stone Age Tools

When we think about these primitive cultures, we often think of stone age tools like flint knives and arrows. When I go to conferences and see the improvement stories offered by attendees, they all use primitive tools: sometimes just words, sometimes a line graph or a bar chart.

I'd like you to consider that most businesses are still in the stone age when it comes to using data to manage and improve processes. Few use control charts or histograms to measure performance and improvement. Few use Pareto charts to identify opportunities for improvement.

Most are content with their primitive methods, but they are in danger from competitors willing to embrace the methods and tools of Lean Six Sigma. Once a competitor gains a lead in speed, quality or cost, it's hard to catch up. The fast eat the slow. 

At the other end of the spectrum, statisticians are building starships of advanced charts and tools that no one is ready to use. They endlessly debate the merits of one control chart over another. And all this statistical mumbo-jumbo frightens potential users of Lean Six Sigma and SPC. They're afraid someone will challenge whatever chart or statistic they use and they won't know how to defend their choice.

So they don't do anything at all.

Here's My Point

Gut feel, trial and error and common sense are primitive tools of the Kalahari or Outback, not the tools of operational excellence. Similarly, futuristic tools invented by statisticians hoping to leave their mark on the world are inhibiting the spread of Lean Six Sigma.

There are a handful of methods and tools that will solve over 90% of the common business problems. Isn't it time to make it easy for primitive business tribes to embrace these tools?

What do I think are the essential tools? The ones I use most of the time are:

  • XmR Control Chart to show performance over time
  • Pareto Chart to identify improvement opportunities
  • Histogram to analyze deviation from target
  • Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagram to show cause-effects
  • Value Stream Map to identify delays between process steps

QI Macros provide easy, affordable access to these tools. Everything else is overkill for most primitive corporate tribes. Get them comfortable and feeling safe in the use of these tools and then we can begin to add in the others.

To create successful businesses and an unstoppable economy, we need to make it easy for every business to adopt the methods and tools of Lean Six Sigma, not just the ones with deep pockets and lots of time on their hands.

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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