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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: How do We Want to Manage Our Organizations?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  How do Six Sigma and Lean fit together?

I think these kinds of questions about Lean versus Six Sigma are somewhat tangential, and don’t do much for addressing the more essential issue of, how do we want to manage our organizations?

Several years ago there was a similar debate between “Agile Manufacturing” and “Lean.”  Eventually it got quiet around the agile topic, and it seemed to go away.  But agile continued on in the software development world and increasingly concerned itself with the question of, by what patterns should teams do work so that the product of that work meets customer needs?  Today agile is about using the scientific method (or PDCA, as Jeff Liker says in his response) to achieve challenging objectives, superior results and continuously improve.

In our early benchmarking of Toyota we confused the visible content of what we saw Toyota working on in its factories — minimizing waste / maximizing productivity — with the admittedly less visible kata that Toyota uses to pursue objectives.  We called what we saw “Lean,” which suggests always minimizing or maximizing.  That minimizing idea easily fit into our existing thinking in business, giving us no reason to change our thinking.  Lean, Six Sigma and so on… such practices have been add-ons to our way of managing.

In contrast, the Improvement Kata described in the book Toyota Kata is not an add-on, nor a method aimed exclusively at cost reduction by waste elimination.  The improvement kata is a different pattern of working, as Steve Spear’s findings point out, aimed toward whatever objective you want to achieve.  That can be minimizing, optimizing or any other endeavor.

In fact, we cannot predict what the objectives and contents of our future actions will be.  The best we can do is to adopt a content-neutral kata, and an associated way of managing, that can handle whatever the future dishes out.

Mike

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