An interview with W. Frazier Pruitt
Each issue, Lean & Six Sigma Review poses five questions to a lean and Six Sigma leader.
- Why will Six Sigma be around in 20 years?
Six Sigma tools will be around for a long time because they work. Names may change and methods evolve, but statistics and structured problem solving will have a place in continuous improvement for generations.
- Why is lean Six Sigma (LSS) better than other improvement methods?
LSS comes with one of the strongest communities in continuous improvement (CI). While I don’t see LSS as inherently better than any other problem solving method, like many tools, the best CI method is the one that gets used. LSS is comprised of many tools and its vast network of knowledge, training and support gets the job done.
- How do people get tripped up in LSS projects and why?
Communication! As Six Sigma practitioners, we enjoy the problem solving journey, but executives and other leaders are more interested in results. If we don’t adjust our communication, our points are not understood and our recommendations are not heeded. To improve communication, I recommend using the Minto Pyramid Principle. Minto is a technique used to communicate detailed analytic information, which is perfect for Six Sigma. In fact, the define, measure, analyze, improve and control framework can be directly related to this principle.1
- What emerging area do you see within LSS?
Quality 4.0 is an obvious emerging area, but exactly how it fits with Six Sigma has yet to be fully developed. We will see more and more data with 4.0, which seems like a godsend at first, but eventually we may find results underwhelming if we use only historical tools. Conventional statistics are used to deal with expensive and incomplete data. As a result, continuous data may reveal only small, incremental improvements.2 The future is coming with vast amounts of data. If we want step-change improvements, we must adapt or develop new tools to leverage the data.
- Why do organizational LSS initiatives fail?
Initiatives fail for all the usual reasons, such as poor management buy in, lack of resources or using the wrong tool for the situation. Unfortunately, all of these common reasons have led to a more insidious problem: justification inflation. As projects fall short of promises, managers raise expectations. More challenging thresholds for return on investment, payback and internal rate of return act as an insurance or buffer from failure. As these expectations rise, practitioners that have good, worthwhile projects sharpen their pencils to satisfy the new requirements only to fall short of the new, over-optimistic expectations. The destructive cycle is perpetuated, leaving many good, value-adding projects not started. To break the cycle, we must improve and be honest about estimates while being better communicators of the benefits, and pay particular attention to the organization’s financials.
- W. Frazier Pruitt, “Some Assembly Required,” Quality Progress, May 2020, pp. 16-21.
- W. Frazier Pruitt, “The Download: Unleash the Power,” Quality Progress, February 2021, pp. 45-47.
Article originally published in Lean Six Sigma Review May 2022