Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Post-Mortem on a Lean Six Sigma Training Disaster

Yesterday I was part of a group of 35 senior professionals from my organization given a one-day Lean Six Sigma (LSS) training session. LSS is a process improvement technique that seeks to remove wasted effort from repetitive processes. It is commonly used in manufacturing firms. We are an engineering consultancy and do not fit the mold of the typical LSS adopter. The LSS training session turned into an absolute turkey shoot of the instructors. It answered the question, "What would happen if you had Soviet-style management without the Soviet security apparatus?"

Without the threat of the NKVD coming in and shooting us, we tore the trainers apart. I will hereby admit to be one of the chief attackers. I've worked at this place a long time and my cerebral cortex is connected to my mouth with only the most rudimentary of filters in between. I can't stand stupidity and I hate lies, both of which filled this training session. The training was supposed to give us a fundamental understanding of how LSS worked. Had they stuck with that, we would have sat there, quietly and endured the day as we have so many other times when we've been subjected to this kind of nonsense. Instead, the trainers tried to sell us on the idea as well and used all kinds of examples of LSS success, none of which applied to us.

 Before I completely lose my normal readers, let me give you an analogy. Imagine that Nike spends a lot of time and money improving the quality of their shoes, but does not pass the cost of this on to their customers. Profit being income minus expenses, would go down as Nike's expenses would rise, but their income would not. That's LSS for us. We're expected to pay for the LSS efforts, but we can't pass the costs on to our customers. It's simply a tax on our organization, forced on us from above. Since the audience consisted of people who had worked at the organization for 20+ years each and were all leaders in one way or another, there was no way the instructors were going to pull anything over on us. We all knew more than they did. As a marketer myself, I can tell you that's about the worst situation imaginable, trying to sell an inferior product to customers who know more than you do. It was an absolute turkey shoot.

 
An attendee takes aim as an LSS trainer is launched into the air.

I don't think any of us wanted to beat these guys up. One of us even asked, "Are all of these sessions this hard for you?" The instructor replied, "Each one is worse than the last." We've gone through these kinds of enforced training before. Since the training is mandatory, there was nothing to sell.

One of the cardinal rules of selling is never talk past the point of sale. That is, once the customer has decided to buy the item, you can't do anything but hurt yourself if you keep talking. In this case, the sale was made long before we entered the room. There was no point in trying to convince us that this was a good thing, since it didn't matter what we thought any way. Being Americans, I think we all walked into the room with a strong dislike for having decisions made for us, so we were strongly biased against the sales pitch ahead of time.

 Last night I felt bad for some of the things I said. I compared the effort to Mao's Great Leap Forward where local Chinese leaders lied to the Communist government about the annual harvest which led to decisions by the Chicoms resulting in tens of millions of Chinese starving to death. The analogy was apropos, but by that time, it was clear that the room had been lost to the trainers and there was no point in continuing the beatings. Unfortunately, they didn't pick up on this either and allowed the discussion to go on, alternately telling us we had no choice in the matter and trying to sell us on the benefits. The discussions during the training session were professional, if a bit testy, so at least no one ended up being called names. In retrospect, that's probably about the best that can be said for it.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

So I can't help but wonder...

If the trainers then did an LSS evluation of the training, what would they decide? (Remember the first step is "Voice of the Customer" - and you are the customer for their training!)

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I came across your blog recently as I was doing some research on six sigma training. I had a few questions and was wondering what would be the best way to get in contact with you to discuss a few of them?

Thanks!
Bobby
bpham@activestrategy.com

Anonymous said...

I am in one of the only remaining mega companies that still continue to peddle this trite. There was a recent aquisition, whereby if this worked sooooo well why did it cost the Chairman of the Board his job? His so called blackbelts were probably so entrenched in 4 blockers they missed the fact that there were billions of dollars in the red that they failed to uncover. They need to stop tricking it up and get to work...This seems a recruitment tool to build up project managers in the workplace. Plain and simple it doesn't work and they are so deep now and have made so many claims they'd look foolish to abort this nonsensical, non working process.

K T Cat said...

Anon, thanks for the comment. I appreciate these anecdotes. It lets me know we're not alone.

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brainmeasure2010 said...

nice blog.Your blog seems to be very passionate about Six Sigma Certificationand LSS technique.Tell me one thing this technique were useful in big organization right or small organizations?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks six sigma.com. I plan to post approximately weekly real world advice and experiences on six sigma, lean and quality management topics.
Hope to hear from you again soon.Lean Six Sigma Training

Unknown said...


Great description of "respect for humanity." Remember also, even if your core strategy isn't necessarily focused on growth, the focus on delivering greater value for you customer will bring growth.
When a business out performs their competitors the growth comes. In the meantime use the opportunity to invest even more in your greatest asset, people.lean six sigma

Rosanna said...

Thanks for your post, very useful information.

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