UK Government Wants Lean and Six Sigma or Just Cost Cutting?
I guess I have a burr in my saddle this week, being Independence Day and all, since I'm commenting on something from the UK again today. I don't mean to come across as anti-Brit, as I love the UK. I saw this article from the excellent newspaper The Independent – “Public sector finds itself in dire need of cost controllers to wield the knife“.
On the one hand, it's encouraging to think that the government there is looking to Lean and Six Sigma methods. However, if “cost cutting” is all they want, they're likely to give Lean a bad name, to give us more “LAME” than Lean.
The article begins with a description of the coalition government's desire for Six Sigma methods:
A public sector long-used to plentiful funding and comfortable remuneration is having to turn to the private sector to find the axemen it needs to implement unprecedentedly savage cuts, with so-called “Six Sigma” experts – the SAS of cost controllers – in particular demand.
The Government has been trying to recruit scores of senior cost cutters since the coalition was formed, with demand expected to increase again after the October spending review.
“Cost cutters”??? I thought Six Sigma was all about quality. If the government wants to focus on old-fashioned cost-cutting, they can use usual methods (they can cut services or “sack” people).
The article continues:
At that point each individual department will be given its spending limits for the next five years and some will have to secure 40 per cent savings, a tall order even in the private sector. No government department has had to engineer such savings since the Second World War.
A 40% savings quota? That seems a disaster waiting to happen, setting an arbitrary quota like that. If the UK government truly can improve quality, they'll be able to provide the same services at a lower cost. If they're bullied into a cost target, they'll likely have to cut corners and do things that harm quality.
The government, or maybe just the author of the article, misunderstands or mischaracterizes Lean as well, saying:
Experts in “lean” methods – keeping stocks and costs to the minimum as perfected by Toyota – are also sought.
This is such an outdated, limited view of Lean and the Toyota Production System, it's laughable. It's as if somebody just heard of “just in time” or the old 1980s book Zero Inventories.
Regular readers of this blog realize that Lean is so much more than just low inventory. Too bad The Independent, or possibly the UK government, doesn't realize that. Either The Independent is as clueless as the WSJ or it's the government. You often can't tell if an article like this reflects bad thinking on the part of the subject of the article or on the writer.