You can tell that I’m a manufacturing guy without a lick of sense when it comes to marketing. If I were smart, I would change the name of my business from Best Manufacturing Practices to The Lean Sigma Kaizen Event Innovation Company and triple my fees. It seems that every time I come across a lean disaster, there is a ‘lean sigma innovation’ outfit behind it.
Take for instance, the Smith and Wesson Company – the gun people. They are under new management and growing rapidly. Most of their growth is coming from the ‘Buy American’ spirit – especially when it comes to security. They are reclaiming the law enforcement market, going back to the glory days when Clint Eastwood wreaked havoc on San Francisco with the "most powerful handgun in the world" – a Smith and Wesson product. The problem is that they are also making a lot of noise about their ‘lean sigma’ strategy. In spite of the fact that they take a month and a half to make a gun, they call their lean sigma journey a success. More incredible, they explained poor margins during one quarter in the midst of their journey as the result of consulting fees for their lean sigma project.
That’s the kind of gig I need – one that pays me so much they have to footnote their financial statements to explain my fees – yet willing to call my efforts a success even if I don’t bring anything to the bottom line.
A company I am working with has paid over a third of a million dollars to a lean sigma consulting company for kaizen events – spanning almost a two year period. They have nothing on the bottom line to show for it. It seems to me that if I can’t pass on just about all I know about kaizen events in a whole lot less than two years, either I am a very poor teacher or I am working with a severely learning disabled client. How can you get someone to pay you premium dollars to do the same thing over and over again for years? I need to figure out the answer to that question.
Or there is the U.S. Army. While there are plenty of solid lean practitioners in Army operations, the top leadership is not quite as astute. They paid an outfit that cannot possibly fit the words ‘lean’, ‘sigma’ and ‘innovation’ into their web site any more for the brilliant advice that their lean sigma outcome should be a mandated unilateral headcount reduction. What part of lean or six sigma does that come from? How do you convince a client that a 5% across the board headcount reduction is ‘innovative’?
I think they have an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes" charade going. After paying ridiculous fees, what CEO wants to tell the board and the rest of the world that the whole thing was a colossal waste of money that saved nothing? Instead, they proclaim the whole effort to be a grand strategic success, and that the company is now more flexible and streamlined, then move on. The lean sigma innovation advisers grab the quote, slap it prominently on their web site, then move on to the next CEO in need of some lean sigma innovation.
What stops me from pursuing the lean sigma innovation consulting route, however, is the same thing that stops everyone who really understands and commits to lean manufacturing. I’m not in it for the money, nor do I see the CEO as my customer. I’m in it for the manufacturing and for the people who manufacture for a living. We measure success by the number of high value adding manufacturing jobs we have helped to save and sometimes create.
CEO’s come and go, and so do fads like ‘lean sigma’ and the current nonsensical ‘innovation’ phase. (I recently read an article in which Whirlpool – a real ‘lean sigma innovator’ if there ever was one – crowed about how innovative they were by selling refrigerators in India with smaller meat compartments and bigger vegetable compartments because India has a lot of vegetarians. What they call ‘innovation’ the rest of the world calls ‘common sense’.) On the other hand, lean manufacturing and lean manufacturing jobs are there for the long term.