What Lean is Lacking: Disco Medallions?


When we lament why Lean hasn't been more widely embraced as a new management model in healthcare (or other industries, for that matter), it's good to ask “why?” We can identify gaps and propose countermeasures that might help solve this problem.

As much as I believe that benchmarking isn't as useful as many think it is, I did see a recent innovation in the Six Sigma world that we might want to consider… or maybe not.

As I've written about before, I'm not a certified Six Sigma anything. I took Green Belt classes when I worked at Dell, but was never certified. I have learned statistical methods through my engineering and business education and I use statistical process control and other basic statistical methods in the course of my Lean work (as Toyota does, although they don't do formal Six Sigma).

I'm all for using statistics and data, as appropriate. But, I'm not a huge proponent of formal Six Sigma programs. This is probably “Six Sigma As Misguidedly Executed” (like Lean As Misguidedly Executed), but the last manufacturing company I worked for had trained and certified nearly everybody as a Green Belt. But, hardly anybody was actually using Six Sigma methods (other than full-time Black Belts).

So, even knowing that I'm not a “Six Sigma guy” and I have my concerns about formal Lean certifications, a friend asked me about a well-known consultant's new “Executive Master Black Belt” offering. I said, “I dunno, but I'll take a look.” A lot of it was vague and somewhat unclear – OK, a Master Black Belt who understands better how to work with senior executives. I guess that's helpful.

Since I like to nitpick and small details often fascinate me, here is one of the things that jumped at me in the brochure (obscuring the author/consultant's name, because it seems like the polite thing to do):

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 9.42.45 AM

So you not only get certified and get a black belt, you get a medallion? You can wear your disco medallion, I mean “victory medal,” to conferences and business events?

Who would actually do that?

Disco Stu from “The Simpsons” says, “Disco Stu finally has a reason to get Six Sigma certified!”

disco stu

Good grief. What silliness.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Ridiculous, but I wouldn’t put it past people to start wearing things like this as we advance into more ubiquitious gamification with its badges, etc… a real-world representation of a virtual gimmick.

    However, I don’t think it is going to get you a dance at the social.

    Unless its REALLY big – think a massive 10″ gold engraved belt buckle on an dressed to the nines urban cowboy at a country line dancing bar in Nashville, TN. I saw that once on a visit to Vanderbilt and was in ‘shock and awe’. I’m sure it appeals to a certain limited market.

  2. Victory Medal? That’s what I want! So, there really is an end to the journey, and it ends in v-i-c-t-o-r-y. Excuse me, I have to go change a slide deck or two.


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