Sowing the seeds of LSS

Sowing-a-SeedAs I’ve written about in the past, I’m always looking for ways to simplify lean Six Sigma (LSS) by using use analogies to help explain the process.

One of the sectors I am currently helping to pursue new clients in is the agriculture industry, and recently while reading John Maxwell’s book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions he describes the journey to becoming a great leader using the analogy of the four seasons, which resonated with me and the ag industry, and even more so from a general LSS deployment on through to achieving results.

In this post I’m going to use a four seasons analogy that you may find helpful as you work with organizational leaders trying to figure out just what LSS is all about, and how, from a simple planning to produce analogy, you can explain the process in a format anyone can understand.

1. Winter is a time for planning.

When we think of “growing” from an agricultural perspective, winter is a time when everything is dead and no growth is taking place, but when you investigate further and ask farmers what they are doing in the winter time it’s not likely you’ll find they are spending a lot of time sitting around eating Bonbons and watching Oprah.  What you’re likely to find is they are spending this time planning for what they want to produce in the near future.

In the world of LSS this first “season” is critical to success in that we should be spending this time dreaming big and putting the plan together to make the dream become reality.  A few questions to consider are:

  • What is important to the success of the organization?
  • How could or do we measure what is important?
  • How much better could we be in the important things?
  • What is keeping us from closing the gap between where we are today and how much better we could be?
  • How do we define and measure LSS success?

The key output from the winter season is defining what LSS success looks like.  See my previous post on measuring the LSS vital signs to get some ideas on how to do this.

2. Spring is the time to plant your seeds of success.

Spring is the time to take your winter plans and turn them into action; it’s the time to plant the seeds of LSS success!  These “seeds” can be viewed as all the things that are needed to turn your plan into reality.

Two key seeds are projects and people.  From my experience, success is 90% about picking the right projects and then linking the right people to those projects.  What needs to be done to take the organization to the next level?  Who are the people who will be the future leaders of the organization?  These are two simple questions that can lead to finding your seeds of success.

3. Summer is a season for perspiration.

If you’ve ever planted a garden you know that summer is when you have to sweat in order to succeed.  The summer is a time of cultivation, watering, and growth.  From a LSS viewpoint, the summer season is a time to execute projects.  The process is also about personal growth, and one of the best ways to grow as a LSS leader is to find a mentor who can guide you in the process.

There’s no training or books that can replace real world experience that comes from someone who’s “been there and done that”!  When I compare those whom I’ve seen coached by a master black belt and those who choose to try it on their own, the differences seen a few years later have been quite dramatic.  Those who were coached are in many cases still working on projects and using the LSS approach to solve tough problems, while those who did not work with a coach did almost nothing after the initial training.

The American Society for Training and Development estimates that 90% of skills gained in training are lost within a year.  Like anything that is learned and not applied, skills will decay quickly if not put to use, and having a personal coach not only increases the probability you will apply your skills, but also provides an accountability partner to keep trainees moving forward with projects.  Many of my clients tell me the biggest ROI from the fee I charge is giving them a nudge every two weeks to keep their projects moving forward.

4. Autumn is a season of produce.

The old adage, “you reap what you sow”, comes to fruition in the fall when the harvest arrives and all your hard work pays off in the results of your projects.  At this point in the process there’s still work to do, but if the plan was developed, seeds were planted, and a lot of perspiration has taken place, the produce will be ripe for the picking!

This point is also when you will make an assessment against your plan to measure how well you’ve done in going from dreaming big to harvesting big.  This is also a time of sharing.  Sharing the positive experiences and best practices with others.

Providing positive feedback and reinforcement is also a big part of a successful harvest.  Often times we focus far too much on what happens before (i.e. training) we achieve results, but what research and experience tells us is that 80% of behavior is driven not by what happens before, but instead what happens after we plant, perspire, and harvest (read more about this here).

There’s no question LSS can become overly complicated and this can lead to running away, not toward, what is the best approach we currently have to improve existing processes.  The next time you’re faced with the opportunity to share the LSS gospel with a friend, boss, or anyone who wants to improve what they do, instead of throwing a bunch of Japanese jargon and statistics at them think about using a simple analogy such as the four seasons to help them come to believe in LSS as a possible path to their harvest.  If you need help with your planting don’t hesitate to contact the group I work with – Variance Reduction International.

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