Surfing Change

Jeff Cole

Occasionally, it’s good to step aside from the whitewater of activity inside your Six Sigma projects and take a larger look at change in general. Change has a nasty habit of happening, whether you want it to or not. Recently, my father-in-law passed away. He was a rugged individualist carved from pre-depression granite—a classic old-school management type for whom planning, directing, organizing and controlling were the priority during the work day, and family the priority at all other waking hours. At his viewing, his secretary reminded us that he never once e-mailed, tweeted, texted, Googled, or even had a cell phone. Yet, somehow he managed to be very successful. During his 94 years he was witness to a massive volume of change from significant to trivial. One has to suspect that we haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to the change we’ll experience in our lives and careers.

In an era dominated by headlines of economic crisis, pandemics, environmental concerns and staggering job losses, it may help to keep in mind the long view—today is just a blip on the radar screen of your life. Yesterday I saw an early-'80s episode of Celebrity Family Feud in which the young, smiling cast of the show Dallas was tasked with naming inventions that changed the world. Virtually none of the '80s-era survey answers mentioned anything computer, Internet or high-tech-related! Think of all the change you’ve experienced thus far in life’s journey. Only one thing is certain—more is to come.

What Does Change Have to Do with Six Sigma?

Granted, these are general ramblings, but what does this have to do with Six Sigma? After all—components of Six Sigma have and may always be the same. Correlation is basically the same since the late 1800s. P-D-C-A has been around since 1925 and isn’t going away soon. Some aspects of Six Sigma, though, have indeed changed. According to Ed Bales, a Motorola University Program Manager who worked directly with Six Sigma inventor Bill Smith, "Early on, Six Sigma was just M-A-I-C. The ‘D’ step was added later." Do a content search of quality literature from the late 1980s into the late 1990s and see how many references to "Lean Six Sigma" or "Yellow Belt" or "online Black Belt training" you find. The infusion of Lean practices into Six Sigma has been another recent stage in its evolution. Companies have created belts of all levels and colors. The bottom line—Six Sigma could potentially look very different 10 or 12 years from now! How might these factors impact Six Sigma projects and approaches in the future?

  • Inexpensive Monte Carlo Excel add-ins allowing you to quickly simulate a process
  • RFID as applied to data capture, queue avoidance and tailored customer communications
  • Electronic management to govern and minimize variation
  • Smart phones and their ability to capture and analyze data
  • Social networking allowing for best practice sharing and real-time communications
  • Realignment of the economy, furloughing thousands of talented Black Belts and Master Black Belts who seek to leverage their skill sets in unique ways
  • Well-constructed and proven organizational change models

How You Can Stay Abreast of Change as a Six Sigma Professional

The changes to what you and I do daily will indeed come. Some will be quite sudden while others silently creep up on us. As with any change, success lies in staying ahead of the power curve. What can we do to stay nimble and adaptive to upcoming change?

  • Keep a finger on the pulse of your industry and on Six Sigma. Skimming Web sites such as this one is a great practice. There are business journals and several magazines dedicated to Six Sigma and a few free online magazines such as Six Sigma IQ, Quality Digest and Quality Magazine. Don’t just look at the articles, watch for trends in what the advertisers are selling as well.
  • Think laterally. Look for best practices in other fields and ask how you might apply that concept to Six Sigma. If a PMP tells you about an interesting new tool in the PMBOK, see if it’s useful to your DMAIC project. Read any of de Bono’s or von Oech’s work on creative thinking. Apply it to how you solve problems and employ their methods to link practices from other fields to your projects.
  • Innovate and Experiment. Many practitioners have developed a unique tool or approach at some point. While DMAIC is a tested and proven method, if nobody tries to innovate or do something new, the method will never be improved or advanced. Look at your project portfolio and pick several low-risk projects with which to innovate and experiment with new tools or methods—lead the curve!

Stretch well and wax up your board because the waves of change in Six Sigma will be rippling and roaring in. Cowabunga!