Lean, Six Sigma, and Why I Don’t Use Buzzwords

Or, “The Unexpected Lessons of My MBA”.

When I embarked upon getting my MBA, I really and truly thought I wanted another corporate job. It was a time in my life when I was in a small town with minimal opportunities, at a job that I had outgrown. Honestly, I think that what I really wanted was a more interesting and challenging environment altogether, because I was concerned that I would cease to evolve without one. And even more honestly, I didn’t see a way to manage the extra tuition in which I was investing without landing that high-paying corporate gig, so it seemed to be the clearest answer to my most pressing concerns.

What I received pretty early in my program, though, was a reminder about the corporate experience I’d already had, and how good I’d felt to leave it. To be sure, I had excelled as a cog, as much as a cog can ever excel in her tiny, restricted corner of a monolith. I went above and beyond in my support position, to design a new and exciting global process that had significant impacts on my larger department’s performance and evolution. In fact, I designed myself right out of my job! Since I was working on my (completely unrelated) undergrad at the time, I came to the easy conclusion that I was rendering my position a redundancy with purpose, and a year later, I drove away from HQ for the last time in joy and sunshine.

So it was a pretty big bummer to realize years later that the ideas I had about getting my MBA weren’t actually aligned with my preferred life’s direction. It’s not that there were any shortcomings in the way my MBA was taught; I had phenomenal teachers and experienced tons of growth. This realization came to me when I found my eyes rolling at the culture of “lingo” that permeated every textbook and lecture, and the sense of exclusivity around concepts that are actually simple, yet seem to go out of their way to project a mystique of complicated inaccessibility to small businesses.

My feelings about this culture are beautifully expressed by the musical genius of Weird Al Yankovic, Long May He Reign:

First of all, I obviously believe in business success as a societal boon, in its most general and idealized form. Otherwise, I would never have started my own company dedicated to helping other businesses succeed! I also know that these constructs (♩“our Proven Methodo-o-ology!”♩) are incredibly helpful, and indeed, have revolutionized whole industries. Conceptual frameworks for managing, growing and innovating vast, complex organizations and all of their bazillion moving parts go far towards forming shared language, goals, and performance metrics across all of those areas.

But do they mean anything to you, the small business operator? Would it really be helpful if I approached the revision of your systems, processes and strategies with the goal of ♩”gaining traction with our resources in the marketplace”♩? (♩“doot do doot, doot doot do do do doot!”♩)

Well, Lean emphasizes delivering optimal customer value through the elimination of waste (♩”Can you visualiiiiiiize a value-added experience?”♩). Systems are evaluated for their ability to facilitate the flow of products and services through horizontal value streamssszzzzzzz…. Wait, wake up, this is important! Because it is true that you can transform your entire business by cutting waste through evaluating your business’s Purpose, Process and People*, and this is, in essence, what I am doing when we work together. Additionally, Six Sigma, which is often used in tandem with Lean, eliminates waste through process improvement. The Six Sigma process DMAIC, stands for “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control”, while the process DMADV, are the same steps save the penultimate, in which we Design a process where one did not exist, instead of Improve an existing one. This simultaneously spoke to me on a cellular level and left me scratching my head that we actually have these “sub-methodologies” with their own acronyms (sheesh, my gods, the acronyms) to describe painfully obvious (to me) ways to devise process solutions.

♩”Promoting viability! Providing our supply chain with di–versityyy…. versity…. ooooooo!” ♩

I hereby swear that I will never use acronyms with you (unless they are of my own making and are FUNNY).

What I also do differently, which could very well be considered “wasteful” in a corporate environment, is give proportional attention to the subjective emotional experience of the processes necessary to run a business successfully. I want to connect with the qualitative experience of how systems are (or are not) working, just as deeply as I evaluate the quantifiable areas of inefficiency. Because far beyond striving to♩“Efficiently operationalize our….. strategiiiiiies!” ♩, designing more natural, intuitive ways of working generates tremendous satisfaction for the people doing the work, and then everyone likes being there, and wants to keep being there. Happy people are invested people, and when everyone feels a sense of ownership for the business, everything gets easier for everyone.

Do you want help to ♩“lev-er-age our…. coooooore competencies, in order to holistically administrate….. exceptional…. synergyyyyyy”♩?? Schedule your intro call today!

*Credit to Womack and Jones, authors of the seminal business classic, Lean Thinking

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