Six sigma funneling:

Six Sigma project is a difficult but rewarding journey. Six sigma gives structure path for problem solving. For that, we need team thinking to find out real cause of any problem. Here I am just discussing path that has helped me in many projects. Let’s take a problem. It could be weight reduction of a person.




Problem us about “We want to reduce weight of a person X”. We should clearly define


Team – You, your wife, your doctor, your dietician

            Business case- Why you want to reduce it?

            Goals: How much reduction you want?

Scope – What all you want to cover, your diet etc

            Time plan – By when you want to reduce it.


Measure –


This phase deals with quantative aspect of the problem like measurement of Y (output) along with its variation.


#          Measure the Y – What is your current weight?, What is Variation in it (if any – morning , evening)


#           Measurement system analysis (MSA) – Is my weight measurement system working right means weigh bridge?


#          Input- Output metric –      Your diet habits / your physical routine                      


#          Process map –   your daily routine activity etc


#          Process capability: Is your process capable of delivering the result or you have to redesign the whole process?





Identify X’s and validate the relation


 Y ( Wight increment ) = F (x1, x2, x3, x4…. etc )


Divergence :


#          Brainstorm – Find out X’s. Bucket it in three / four major category by process or by activity like – Diet input, Lifestyle (TV, no workout etc), eating habits, other habits, physiological barriers, or external factors like (dna, heredity, any diseases ) etc . Please list down all the probable causes for this problem.




#          Cause and Effect metric – Priorities the X’s by rating them on scale of 9, 3, and 1.  #     FMEA – Use it as prioritizing tool to clearly pin pointing the severity, occurrence, and detection.


Validation of X’s


#        Validation of X’s with data – If RPN number is greater than 200, do statistical validation of them. It could be done by ANOVA, 2T Test , Regression, or DOE. If RPN number is within 120-200, make control plan for them.   





Brainstorm solutions for Validated X’s. You can bucket them based on ease on implementation. It may be quick wins, breakthrough, or process tightening. Process tightening solutions may be like less oil intake, more protein diet, one hour walk, yoga, meditation etc. Quick win, low hanging fruits, may be like fat reduction pills or removal of unnecessary habit.  Breakthrough solutions are like surgery or complete change in life style.


Implement the solutions: This is action time.




Control is most important aspect of any problem solving. It needs focus and commitment. Track the actions and their impact for at least nine months. Make control plan for X’s and review them frequently. Fat has the tendency to come back again. If it was just a process tightening, this would be more so. 


Company Politics And Six Sigma

No grouping of human beings is without some amount of politics. Managing deployment of Six Sigma in your organization will unavoidably run into some personal issues and conflict. However, with deft handling of the personal and political issues that come up, along with patience and perseverance, your Six Sigma deployment will not get derailed.

Political factors that can affect a Six Sigma project include personal resistance to change, inflexible company policies, and incompatibility with existing organizational methods and goals. Not surprisingly, all of these factors also affect business processes of any kind. They are not unique to Six Sigma. This is one of Six Sigma’s strengths: realistically acknowledging the way politics work in an organization. Six Sigma is not just number crunching. It understands the importance of and encourages the involvement of people throughout and at all levels of the organization working together toward a common goal. Six Sigma encourages planning, communication, and openness about processes, procedures, and information.

Many people see change, any change, as lossa loss of their power or a loss of the security of the old way of doing things. Thus, people are prone to defend the old way, out of habit and out of unease. They wonder how change will affect them and what exactly happens behind the scenes and if they do not know, become apprehensive. This is a problem that can be overcome through communication. Six Sigma successes require clear and open communication at all levels. Any change in an organization will meet some resistance, either intentional or just from inertia. When management can effectively communicate that it is behind that change and can communicate the positive aspects of the change, resistance and turf politics can be countered and overcome.

Another problem is people who disregard the value and power of Six Sigma and consequently, they are reluctant to support Six Sigma projects. To the uninitiated, Six Sigma may appear similar to or simply an evolution of other quality programs. There have been so a lot of quality improvement fads over the months. It is not surprising that people are now a little jaded. Others may see Six Sigma as solely another cost-cutting or productivity enhancement fad. This is an short-sighted view. Six Sigma is neither a fad nor just another quality initiative. It is a way of life. It is a multi-level, cyclical movement toward continual process improvement. The quality improvement fads sell themselves as cheap and easy quick fixes. The reality is that there are no quick fixes to significant process improvement. Six Sigma understands that; it is not a simple quick process. However, the right Six Sigma training and information will help people to understand that Six Sigma is significantly different; it is a robust continuous improvement strategy and process.

Once projects are begun, Six Sigma projects can become a battle of wills for control over that strategy, approach, or tool is used. Team meetings can devolve into arguments over that measurement to use, how it will be calculated, that charts will be generated, whether to use DMAIC or DMADV, etc. Six Sigma is not about making things more difficult. It is about using common sense to make things easier. It is certainly about recognizing that there is more than one road to improvement and more than one right answer to a problem.

In overcoming political problems, the leadership of senior management is critical. Successful Six Sigma programs are built on a solid organizational foundation. The organizational structure and system needs to be clearly identified and communicated to the entire organization to successfully implement Six Sigma Quality. Becoming a Six Sigma organization does not just happen. Planning and training goes into setting up a successful Six Sigma organization. Employee roles and responsibilities must be established and clearly communicated to all. For lots of companies successful in Six Sigma, the key factor has been the direct involvement of their top leaders.

Six Sigma is about getting everyone involved. A Six Sigma project forms a team of people who work together to identify problems and develop solutions. Such teams are not isolated teams rearranging the world for everyone else to live in. These teams are serving the organization by employing the skills and tools they have learned to increase quality and reduce defects. Instilling the team concept along with expert training will go a long way toward solving potential political troubles in your organization.

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Multi-Tasking: Why projects take so long and still go late

In most project environments multi-tasking is a way of life. This seemingly harmless activity, often celebrated as a desirable skill, is one of the biggest culprits in late projects, long project durations, and low project output. At the same time it is one of the least understood factors in managing projects.

For companies where projects are of strategic importance, the stakes are very high. Whether it is delivering their product or service, bringing new products to market, or expanding/ upgrading their operations with new facilities, systems, or capabilities, the financial impact of being able to reduce project durations and costs, increase the volume of completed projects, or simply deliver more projects on-time is enormous. So understanding how this often overlooked practice of multi-tasking is of critical importance to most companies.

Multi-tasking and project performance

Multi-tasking is the act of stopping a task before it is completed and shifting to something else; in software development the term “thrashing” is often used to describe this practice. When a task is stopped and started there is the immediate effect of a loss of efficiency. Each time a person has to re-start a task, time is required to become re-familiarized with the work and get re-set in where he was in the process. It is very much like the physical set-ups done on a machine in production. Each time you tear down a machine to do another task, you have to set it up to run the part again.

While the loss in efficiency is not insignificant, especially in “knowledge work,” it is far from the most important reason multi-tasking is so damaging. What happens when a task is interrupted mid-stream is that its completion is delayed. Most people in project management will readily agree that it is not important when a task finishes, it is important when the project finishes. The diagram below shows three tasks a given resource must do, related to three different projects, and when they are expected to finish: Task A after 10 days, B after 20, and C after 30.

But if the resource has to stop and start the task even just once in the process, the actual completion times of the tasks quickly extends, as shown below. Task A now finishes only after 20 days instead of 10, task B at 25 days rather than at 20 days, and task C may still finish on-time at 30 days, without considering the impact of the loss in efficiency.

The delays on tasks A and B immediately translates into are delays on the downstream tasks in those projects, who now can only start at Day 20 and 25 respectively. The impact on project A is illustrated below. Even in a very small project like this one with just four tasks, and with only one instance of multi-tasking, the project is delivered almost 30% late. It’s not hard to see how the more likely scenario of having several or many instances of multi-tasking during a project can cause the delays to accumulate considerably and lengthen project durations considerably.

In many companies the impact of multi-tasking is obscured by the fact that in spite of its prevalence most projects still finish on time. While this reliability is nice, it masks the even more significant opportunity to cut project durations substantially. If projects are being delivered on or close to schedule, and multi-tasking is occurring, it can only mean that the task estimates used in the plan are significantly inflated. In other words, we are planning for the lost time due to multi-tasking, as this is the only way that the time losses could be recovered. In such cases, reducing the multi-tasking offers enormous potential to cut planned project durations substantially, without eroding delivery performance. These companies are in a great position to reap the benefits of delivering more projects faster.

For years we have put the project managers, executives, and teams through a simple project simulation game using beads, first with multi-tasking, and then a second time, blocking it. The results are nearly always that the time to complete each of the two projects is cut in half, enabling them to double the output, and cut individual durations in half, simply by eliminating multi-tasking. And the same happens when companies drive out the multi-tasking in their own projects.

Is Multi-tasking really so prevalent?

Given the substantial negative impact on durations and project volume, it makes sense to explore just how common multi-tasking is. Since multi-tasking is difficult to see or measure precisely, we need to look at some other things to answer this question. The first issue is to understand the opportunity to multi-task. The way to see if your organization has the “opportunity” to do bad multi-tasking is ask how many jobs/ tasks an individual has on their desk at any given point in time. If there is more than one task that could be worked on a person’s desk then there is the opportunity for multi-tasking. When we ask managers how many tasks are on any given persons desk at one time, the not surprising answer is usually more than five.

The next way to check is to ask people how often they get interrupted or asked to work on something else that is “hot”, “urgent”, or “important”. In most companies one need not even ask this as “constantly shifting priorities” is usually one of people’s biggest complaints in projects. Every meeting that shifts or alters the priorities of projects, or adds new important things for someone to do, is a source of multi-tasking. How often does it happen in your organization?

Another way to look at it is to recognize that in most organizations where multiple projects are being done simultaneously, the resources who do the work on a project have to serve multiple, different project managers. For these project managers what is most important tends to be their projects. As a result they typically create pressure on resources to do their work first, institutionalizing multi-tasking. And when the multi-tasking starts to creep in, it initiates a negative spiral that only increases the pressure to multi-task. If one resource starts the multi-tasking, it delays the completion of their tasks, putting some projects behind. This increases the pressure on project managers and executives to adjust priorities to compensate, which in turn creates more, bad multi-tasking. It’s not hard to see how this spiral quickly becomes the reality we see in many organizations where managers at all levels are quickly pulled into managing work priorities across the organization on a daily basis.

On top of it, many resources who work on projects also support daily operational functions like QA/ QC, production, engineering, customer service. This support role means that they are frequently presented with unexpected, usually urgent things to do which readily drive more multi-tasking. The result is that in the majority of companies there is the opportunity and the pressure to create a significant amount of bad multi-tasking.

If it’s so bad, why do we do it?

Our experience with hundreds of companies is that there are three central reasons organizations find themselves in the trap of multi-tasking:
1. Lack of understanding of the impact of multi-tasking
2. Incorrect assumptions
3. The desire to do a good job

The simple fact is that most people and organizations do not understand how damaging multi-tasking is. Our clients who see the impact illustrated in the bead exercise, mentioned earlier, are stunned and amazed that eliminating the practice results in a doubling of output and a halving of the project durations, with no other improvements. Once people do start to understand how damaging the practice is they become much more conscious of it, and start to change their behavior and the behavior of their organization.

But understanding is not enough. The drivers of multi-tasking are built into the processes, measurements, and systems most companies manage their projects. We strive hard to keep people busy all of the time, to maximize the output of all of our resources and be efficient. Performance measures on project managers and executives motivate them to focus on delivering individual projects, without understanding of the impact of their actions on the rest of the pipeline. Conventional scheduling and pipelining tools pay no attention to these factors and routinely overload resources making multi-tasking nearly inevitable.

The second reason is ‘incorrect assumptions.’ Chief among these is the belief that “the earlier you start a project, the earlier it will finish.” While this is probably a valid statement in a single project environment where resources do not need to work on multiple projects, starting new projects earlier only increases the work in process in a multi-project environment and with it the likelihood of multi-tasking. People will get out of a building during a fire alarm much faster if they don’t all rush at the door at once. Though it seems counter-intuitive, projects will finish earlier and we will get more of them done, if we start them later.

Again here the obstacle for companies in applying these principles is that these erroneous assumptions are built into the processes, measures, and systems we use to manage projects. The pressure from upper management and sales to add more projects or start them earlier can make it virtually impossible for managers below to cope with the pressure to multi-task. Conventional software, nearly all of which is based on Critical Path methodology, fail to provide managers with a way to accurately evaluate task priorities across projects. Critical Path can identify which tasks have priority over others within a given project, but it breaks down when considering tasks on different projects. How many times does it happen that someone works on an urgent task, only to learn later that it ended up sitting a downstream step waiting on something else, or because the priorities shifted again?

The final reason for the pervasiveness of multi-tasking is that people want to do a good job. People multi-task in response to a perceived need of the organization: an urgent job, a hot task, a breakdown, a customer complaint, etc. Shifting to work urgent, pressing jobs gives people a chance to be heroes, to save the day, or put out the fire. In fact if you have multi-tasking in your organization, it is an almost sure sign that you have people who care about and are working hard to do a good job for the organization. It is essential to help people to realize the impact of multi-tasking, so they shift their belief of what it means “to do a good job.” But this must be backed by the needed process, measurement, and system changes or their efforts will be overwhelmed by these other forces.

Reducing Bad Multi-tasking

The impact on project performance from reducing multi-tasking is profound. Without so many interruptions and delays on individual tasks the work flows much more quickly and smoothly. Without adding resources or working people any harder, more projects get completed, faster. And without the constant pressure to re-prioritize work, and with more projects tracking on-time, the organizational climate improves dramatically. With these improvements follow the business results companies in project environments are universally seeking. The typical results we have seen companies achieve are:

On-time completions to 95+%
Project durations cut by 1/3 or more
Project output 25%-100%

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Six Sigma: A Critique!

 love six sigma, no, really!!! I was talking to someone who said “Six Sigma in the Knowledge Industry is like eating a Burger with Chinese Chopsticks” when I asked my brother as to what Six Sigma meant to him he told me “If you want someone to not interfere with the companies operations put him in the Quality department in Six Sigma projects”. Some more responses are “If you want to get promoted really fast Six Sigma implementation is the way to go” “It’s a sales buzz word to impress clients”


I started wondering and decided to have a deeper look at the methodology. And I love the knowledge economy and hence my assessment would have that in mind.


What do we have here? The fundamental principle of Quality.


“Eighty-five percent of the reasons for failure to meet the customer expectations are related to deficiencies in systems and process… rather than then employee. The role of the management is to improve the process rather than badgering the individuals to do better”-W.Edwards Deming


When was Six Sigma formulated? 1982 at Motorola. That was the industrial revolution and everything was production based. Wake up this is the knowledge economy. And who’s leading this economy? Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Sun and… Are they Six Sigma enabled? Hell No! the reason is primarily very simple. Six Sigma is a process methodology and is absolutely is a misfit for the Knowledge economy and companies. Does McKinsey or Lehman Brothers follow Six Sigma, ofcourse no. For Six Sigma to work you should have Repeatable and Reproducible Processes and Outcomes because that’s what you are going to improve. And this is based on the premise that in 85% of the cases human skillset and capability would have ZERO impact on the process. And you would achieve Six Sigma process capability if you reduce defects to around 3.4 defects per million opportunities.


So at McKinsey which is a knowledge based company. You don’t have operators yanking at machines producing Sugar Candy. So for every analysis decision that a McKinsey team takes could have 10 other options and the team could take 400 decisions to arrive at the right strategy for the company. So which means that there are 10^400 (10 to the power of 400) combinations in the decision making process and only one of the combinations is the right strategy. This number is more than the number of particles in the known universe and the chances of mistakes is 10^400 – 1 . That’s why Six Sigma will never work in a knowledge based environment.


So what about the revenue saving figures of various companies using Six Sigma? There are two aspects to it. The biggest profit figures are from manufacturing companies. But the services companies attribute revenue savings wrongly to six sigma benefits. While the concept of Six Sigma is irrelevant to knowledge companies the Six Sigma process improvement methodologies are generic problem solving tools which could be used in all companies across the board and it is this which benefits companies and not anything to do with Six Sigma. Basically its like going to Somalia and saying you spent $1000 to improve Living Standards by 6000% for a village. That’s what happens when problem solving methodologies are used in companies which use adhoc management techniques. They return results which are miscategorized as Six Sigma benefits.


And you could dismiss all this by saying that “The author is a proponent of People Based Methodologies”


Now I’m going to eat a Burger using a ChopStick. When I finish doing that in 3.4 million years I will get back to answering the comments on this article.


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Types of innovation

From my previous post, Aditya has commented about innovation being as a result of disruptive thinking which means that you cannot plan it. As I promised in my answer to Aditya, in this post I will try to clarify the concept of innovation by providing some examples illustrating different kinds of innovation. If you are interested to read more about innovation and how you can manage it, I would recommend a book called “Making Innovation Work” by Davila, Epstein & Shelton. From my point of view, this book provides a very clear understanding of innovation, not only from the conceptual level but also from a practical level. To make things simpler, I will try to highlight some key points from this book (even though there are many other understandings what innovation is)

First of all, it is essential to understand that not all innovations are created equally. Hence, they do not entail the same risk or provide similar rewards. From a very basic conceptual (business) level, innovation is about change generated from a technological perspective and/ or a business model perspective. At a very generic level, innovation can be characterized into three types: 1) Radical; 2) Semi-radical; and 3) Incremental innovation.

Radical innovation:

Radical innovation is about significant change that simultaneously affects both the business model and the technology of the company. If the radical innovation also shifts an industry into another direction and brings out fundamental changes to the competitive landscape, it can also be called as disruptive innovation. Remember how it was when started out? It changed the way in which books are sold and pushed the publishing industry into another competitive environment.

Semi-radical innovation:

From a company’s perspective, semi-radical innovation involves substantial change in either technology of an organization or its business model- but not to both. Further, when substantial change happens at one level e.g. technology, it also involves small changes from the business level or vice versa. An example can be the success of Wal-Mart where the substantial change happened at the business model. With a souped-up supply chain that cut costs dramatically, Wal-Mart was able to apply the supermarket business model to retailing, opened large store space, and provided a wide variety of goods at discount prices. Another good example is DELL, its shift in business model is also substantial which required small changes to its process and enabling technologies (such as the supply chain management and internet technologies)

Incremental innovation:

This is actually the most prevalent form of innovation, receiving more than 80% of a company’s total innovation investment (Davila et al.). The goal is of course, to get as much as possible from an already existing innovation without making major changes in investment. Any product improvement can be characterized as incremental innovation. For example new car models every few years, upgraded version of a program, new service procedures from a company etc.

Can innovation be managed?

My honest answer would be yes and no! Yes because it is possible to manage e.g. incremental innovation as well as semi-radical innovation; meaning that you manage the process from idea generation to launch of a product/service. It is also possible for a company to “manage” radical innovation in a sense that it will invest heavily e.g. on a certain technology, with an expectation for some returns in the future. Typically, these companies are industry leaders (and they would like to stay in that position). But there are also higher risks involved and thereby this type of innovation cannot be easily managed. However, if we are looking at the effects of innovation, it is not possible to manage or determine which innovation can be disruptive as such! Therefore when talking about innovation, uncertainty will always be a certain(!) factor which any innovation manager must deal with.

It is also important to recognize that there isn’t a clear cut between the different types of innovation. Everything is relative, dependent on e.g. the lifecycle of a certain technology/industry and how it relates to another technology/industry etc. Further, it is also very important to acknowledge that it is the perceived degree of changes which matters (novelty is very much in the eye of the beholder). An innovation can be considered as incremental for the company who invented it but when launch, it can have major effect for the user or for another industry. Nevertheless, management of innovation to a large extent is possible because every company or organization has the capability to be in charge of their internal sources of change that can be related to their technology and business models. If not, creative thinking or ideas are great but they will stay as ideas if organizations don’t know how to realize ideas into actions and thereby achieve some tangible (and intangible) results.