The Elephant in the Room

Improvement Insights Blog

The Elephant in the Room

At the 2019 ASQ Lean Six Sigma Conference in Phoenix, a number of Black Belts from major companies told me about the Elephant in the Room that they were afraid to discuss with management even though it was harming their Lean Six Sigma effort. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this story in companies ranging from manufacturing to healthcare. Watch now to find out what it was.

“Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and the QI Macros [software], and I want to talk to you about the elephant in the room: The thing that I think is actually impeding Six Sigma.

“I told you recently that I went to the American Society for Quality Lean Six Sigma conference down in Phoenix. Now there’s about 500 people there, but there’s some pretty big companies [attending] and I had a number of them come up to our booth – the QI Macros booth – and say, “We’ve implemented our Six Sigma [program], and we bought the big expensive, complex software that everybody recommends,” (and you know who I’m talking about). They said, “We spent four days teaching [our users] how to use it, but our problem is… nobody’s using it.”

“What? Nobody’s using it?

“Yeah [our users] do most of their stuff in Excel and so they’re still doing basic line or bar charts and stuff like that.” Oh my gosh!

“All right, so here’s what I want you to understand: invariably, the complex, expensive software takes days for training to learn how to use it, and then people don’t use it. Well, what is that? Well, you bought all this software and nobody’s using it; that’s waste. You spend four days teaching people how to use it and they’re not using it; that’s waste. Guess what? You’re not getting the benefit of improvement projects using that software, so you’re not achieving those things that you’re supposed to be achieving with Six Sigma. What? It’s an embarrassing thing.

“Then the other thing is because [that software] is so expensive, you cannot leave it behind with the people who actually do the job to monitor the improvement… so they can’t use control charts to sustain the improvement. What happens over time? It just drifts back the way it was, so your improvement project [produced] waste.

“People wonder why Six Sigma is not succeeding; I think it’s because we’ve tried to take software that’s designed for statisticians and students and make that the industry standard, as opposed to understanding “How do people work?” Well, they’re working in Excel; they don’t want to have to import data out of Excel into this other thing and then do something and then put it back. It’s a big ugly thing.

“That is the elephant in the room. There’s all these sunk costs: “We went the extra mile, we spent the extra dollars and we did all this training and people aren’t using it, and we’re not getting the results we want,” and so Six Sigma takes the hit. Six Sigma takes the hit. Eventually Six Sigma vanishes.

“Now way back when I started, back in 1990, I asked my bosses and said, “I’ve been to this training, there’s a software out there but it’s kind of expensive and complex,” and he said, “Oh shut up. You’ve been trained, go back and do your job.” (That’s another thing I see.) So, be concerned. You have these sunk costs and it’s embarrassing to admit, “Hey, we picked something that doesn’t match the way our people work.” Now, if you’re building spacecraft and military aircraft and jet engines and stuff like that, you need the complex expensive stuff, but if you’re the average Joe or Suzy you need something that works in Excel the way you work. I’ve designed QI Macros to do that. And even QI Macros… you know, [license holders] aren’t using QI Macros… guess what? That’s waste too!

“The thing is, with QI Macros I can teach anybody how to use it in about 15 minutes, so that’s the learning curve because it’s so simple to use. So I want you to think about the elephant in the room and question whether the one-size-fits-all methodology is a good idea for choosing software. It may have been picked by your consultants, it may have been picked by your IT department because they’re more comfortable with it, it may have been picked by who knows what… It may have been forced on you by your leadership team because that’s what they learned in college I want you to rethink this thing that is a roadblock to success; it is wasting money, it is wasting time, you’re not getting the outputs and the results you want, you’re not able to sustain the improvements like you should.

“That, my friends, is the elephant in the room. “That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”

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