By October 17, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

"Black Belt for Sale"

Black Belt for Sale | Quality Digest – Mike Micklewright

You might remember Mike from his Dr. Deming podcast and impersonation. Not that I’m trying to fuel any “Lean vs. Six Sigma” hooey, but Mike has a provocative (don’t read it if an image of a noose or suicide imagery bothers you) piece about the excesses of Six Sigma and those who push the tools over common sense improvements. He particularly rants about companies who are looking for “the belt” more so than real experience or knowledge, as in this tale:

Another DOE expert is beaten by Six Sigma
A couple of years ago, my former mentor at the Saturn Corp., Philip J. Ross, called me out of the blue and asked me how my business was. His business was very slow at the time. Ross is an expert in DOE and had authored the book, Taguchi Techniques for Quality Engineering (McGraw-Hill Professional, 1995). He’s great at resolving problems and preventing problems. I asked him if he had jumped on the Six Sigma bandwagon and predictably, he said he hadn’t.

Now, one might think that Ross should have kept up with the times and that it’s his own fault for his business suffering because he didn’t change with the times. He may have resisted, like I did.

However, I prefer to think of it as such. Companies out there are big fools for not hiring an expert such as Ross to teach people the theory and knowledge behind designed experiments to truly resolve and prevent problems. Companies are big fools for falling onto the Six Sigma bandwagon and setting targets for the number of Black Belts that they have trained (so that the Black Belts can record it on their resumes and jump ship), rather than obtaining the knowledge to do true process improvement.

As with similar stories, these types of excesses can be found with Lean — companies who want to hire an employee or consultant with “Lean certification” instead of knowing how to look for real Lean knowledge or experience. Or worse, you find a hospital who wants a Lean person with “DFSS experience required.” Do you really know what you’re looking for, or is this just a laundry list of buzzwords and empty “requirements?”


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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