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James Wells


Are We Problem Solving or Just Going Through the Motions?

If the solution is obvious, just do it!

Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2021 - 12:03

I was talking recently with a friend who runs an academic program at a major U.S. university. She was telling me about solving a problem in her department and how the solution was obvious so she just did it. She then related how one of her colleagues protested that she should have used some Six Sigma tools to really understand the process before making the change.

The point is that she rejected this suggestion and just did what she knew needed to be done. I think she was exactly right.

This discussion reveals one of the major issues facing continuous improvement (CI) initiatives today. Doesn’t matter if it’s lean, Six Sigma, 8D, TRIZ, Shainin Red X, or whatever the latest fad in the workplace is. If you know what to do to solve a problem, why mess around with “discovering” it? Just get your backbone up and do what you know is right.

Of course, that begs the question: Are you really sure that what you want to do will work? We must always be conscious of the possibility of confirmation bias in our problem-solving efforts. But if the solution is obvious, just go do it!

If that’s the case, then why do so many “experts” advise going through the “process” to “discover” what to do? Two reasons. First, I have found that some practitioners of Six Sigma or lean have a devotion to it that borders on religious fanaticism, insisting that everything be done with the methods and tools. The truth is that not everything should be done with Six Sigma, or lean, or whatever your method du jour is.

There’s an old saying that I like. “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” What this means to me is that we have to use different tools in our toolboxes intelligently to solve different problems appropriately. Instead of a nail, every problem is more like a snowflake, unique and different in some way from every other problem. Sure, there are some common traits among certain problems, but a cookie-cutter approach will carry us only so far.

The second reason is really abuse of the continuous improvement method(s). A common misconception is that applying the process builds a solid case for management to use in decision-making, given all the data and statistics and stuff. The problem is that you’ve spent three to six months to build a case to prove that you should do what you knew you should do from the get-go. The net effect is that the problem continues for several months while you defer the decision that you knew you should make in the beginning.

This is an abuse of the intent and mechanics of the various CI methods. It leads to criticisms of the method as slow, not innovative, or original. Abuse leads fence-sitters to conclude that we really don’t need Six Sigma or lean or whatever to make things better because all Six Sigma usually does is confirm what we already knew.

So if we shouldn’t use a cookie-cutter approach to problem solving, when is it appropriate to use, or choose not to use, a particular CI method? First, if the problem that needs to be solved has an obvious root cause or obvious solution, don’t bother with any CI method; just summon the courage and go do it. You may need some tools to help figure out exactly what to do, but if you know, don’t waste time. Just go do it and start reaping the benefits sooner.

If these conditions don’t exist, then you really do need to consider some method to discover what is causing the problem and what should be done about it. In general, if it’s a variation type of problem, use Six Sigma; if it’s a waste type of problem, use lean; if it’s a design problem use Design for Six Sigma or TRIZ or something similar. If it is an assembly problem, Red X is the ticket. If it’s a bottleneck constraint in the workflow, use theory of constraints.

Finally, once you start to dive into the problem, don’t adopt a rigid approach. Be open to using some lean to remove waste while reducing the main variation problem, or vice versa. When considering a waste problem, look for bottlenecks in the process and apply theory of constraints to speed the flow through the “factory.”

The bottom line is that problem solving calls for thoughtfulness, flexibility, and creativity. Above all, problem solving requires a good understanding of the different methods in the toolbox so that effective decisions can be made about what to use in different situations.


About The Author

James Wells’s picture

James Wells

James Wells has been a quality professional for over 23 years, implementing quality management systems compliant with ISO 9001, ISO 14001, TS16949, FDA cGMP and TL9000 requirements. Wells has led four Lean Six Sigma deployments and accumulated over $140 million in savings over 15 years as a Master Black Belt and Lean Specialist. Wells is certified as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Lean Specialist. He is the Principal Consultant at Quality In Practice. He can be reached at info@qualityinpractice.solutions


The Truth

You claim "The truth is that not everything should be done with Six Sigma".  The truth is that NOTHING should ever be done using Six Sigma.

Six Sigma is a destructive scam based on pure farce. It was created by psychologist, Mikel Harry. Harry claimed that all processes drift by +/-1.5 sigma, every 50 measurements, making them wildly out-of-control and unpredictable.  It is hence impossible for a Six Sigma process to produce quality product, no matter where specification limits are set.  Harry based his ludicrous claim on the height of a stack of discs!  EVERY aspect is as worthless as its laughable foundations.

Dr Wheeler, the world’s leading process statistician, calls Six Sigma “GOOFY” and the stuff of “the tooth fairy”..  CBS calls it the most stupid fad of all time.

Of the 58 large companies that announced Six Sigma programs, 91 percent have trailed the S&P 500 since.  Six Sigma destroyed its once best reference GE ... before they tossed the trash out.

Why do people turn their backs on the great men of QUALITY:  Professor Deming, Professor Lewis, Professor Ishikawa, Dr Shewhart and Dr Wheeler, for the lunacy of psychologist/salesman Mikel Harry.

Please read my papers exposing the Six Sigma scam:














Six Sigma