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When “Six” Is Not Enough


For the last decade we have been taken through the learning curve of various initiatives whose names begin with “six” – from Hats to Sigma, and its assorted Lean variants.

Following Deming’s original work in the 1960s and 70s, organisations have been preoccupied with studying and optimising process – a necessary and worthwhile study to seek out and define which elements of our organisational workings operate more efficiently when the work is formally stated and put into a repeatable format. In doing this we begin to reduce waste and seek to eliminate variation. This in turn reduces mistakes and errors and so makes us more efficient.

However, as technology accelerates at breakneck speed, many of us are starting to feel left behind – slaves to the systems that we have made. The technology has advanced to a level that ordinary workers can no longer control or change, instead having to call the technologists and computer people who, by the nature of their training and knowledge, re-examine the process and re-map it to find out how to make it even more automated.

In principle the concept appears sound. Except that it has taken us full circle into a contemporary Industrial Revolution where machines rule our time and make us do things to suit the process; thereby removing the human element, which, according to the process people, was the cause of the errors.

All process, however, needs a leader.

The definition of leader suggests that leaders are people who will choose to ignore the rules; people who move past the statement of “not possible” and make it happen anyway. They are people who think outside the box and thereby move outside the process. They innovate. So where is the “6” in that?

The solution, of course, is not to move away from process, but to find a balance between process and people. We call this “engagement” and build initiatives to try to find ways to communicate, engage and embrace the human side of our organisations. That undefinable which, when correctly harnessed, can give us the advantage.

Rebalancing the fixation of process with the understanding that our own people have something unique, different and contributory has long been accepted as a route to success, but the path is rarely navigated successfully in today’s systems-led world.

Stepping outside of our organisational model for a minute, and looking at it as a leader would, we might conclude that to move forward one must first of all break the “process mould” and involve our people once more. By disrupting the status quo we are able to reach out and find new ways to optimise our market and customer focus and to fix old habits. In cinematic terms it’s a “reboot” – a new starting point from which to re-apply the “6″ in order to efficiently operate our redefined process.

To make any change happen there has to be a reason, a statement of intent, a vision of new things. Of course, it’s a brave decision – but an essential one. One can improve existing processes a thousand times; but, without innovation and that redefining of vision (the variation which is anathema to process), the ultimate achievement can only ever be stagnation.

“6″ is here to stay. It is the vital bedrock of an efficient organisation.

But where innovation, engagement and people are needed to perform at their best, enlightened leaders understand that to create a truly great organisation we need our people, their emotions, their unpredictability and their naive thinking in order to innovate.

It is only then that we know and understand that “6” is simply not enough.

Authored by Philip Webb (

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