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Flavor of the Month

Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins founded their company that would grow into the world's largest chain of ice cream shops in 1945. The original "31 Flavors" were introduced so you could have a different flavor every day. The portfolio expanded and they offered new limited run flavors every month. The "Flavor of the Month" created excitement over something new and temporary. That turn of phase has been adopted to business where new initiatives are introduced in line with a recent change in leadership or a leader's exposure to a new seminar/book/podcast.

In the area of quality and continuous improvement there has been debate and hypothesis as to whether Six Sigma is still relevant. (Acutity Institute, HBR, HBR_2, Industry Week) Terms and concepts have been added to the Body of Knowledge to help it evolve to meet the needs of business; things like Lean and Change Management. Those are not bad additions, they are great topics that, in my opinion, were always implied if not explicit. To construct a rigid box around Six Sigma and state which tools are included only serves the purpose to discredit the approach. The DMAIC methodology and the program management at an organizational level, tied into strategy, are oft overlooked when positioning this continuous improvement vehicle as irrelevant. Casting Six Sigma aside because it doesn't match the organization is counterintuitive. Six Sigma is an approach for continuous improvement and change. To state that the organization is unwilling to change to align with that approach to managing the business is a non-sequitur. And I propose the same logic can be used to discredit other improvement concepts and management philosophies or

  • Stand up meetings

  • Visual performance boards

  • 5S events,

  • Improvement idea submission

  • Business Process Management

  • JIT material replenishment

  • Structured problem solving

I have personally seen all of these concepts or solutions fail in the long run, have you? Was it because they were not relevant or did not solve the problem, NO!

At an organization I was working for in the past we were faced with significant budget cuts. I was asked directly by my manager to put together a list of everything I was working on that we could no longer accomplish due to the new constraints. We burned additional calories listing out what we would not be able to do, eating into the time to do the actual work. That experience of 'talking about what we can't do ... not what we have to improve to get it done' is a stark analogy to this conversation. Organizations can be tempted to look at change initiatives and focus on all the reasons "that won't work here" versus what needs to change within that organization to make the initiative successful.

We can absolutely continue to look for and tailor approaches to managing and improving the business. But, throwing out the approach for changing the business because you are unwilling to change yourself is simply a more active approach than those resistors that are riding it out, waiting for change in leadership ... maybe I'll like next month's flavor better.

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