The Great Expectations & Failures Of Fads

Remember Re-engineering, Kan-ban, Kaizen, QIP, MRP I, II, and III, and now Six Sigma?

Six Sigma worked for GE’s Jack Welch, because he was a hands-on leader. The same is true of virtually any quality or productivity plan. Active leadership is needed to make it successful.

That’s the difference between a fad and viable productivity implementation project.

…Briefly, the Six Sigma initiatives are used to help companies make almost error-free products. Programs like Six Sigma are talked about and sometimes actually tried during an era in which manufacturers like Whirlpool have discovered it was more cost-effective to build products right — rather than spending more money to fix products later as malfunctions drew the ire of angry consumers.

As in any quality or productivity project, the success ratio rose or fell by the accuracy of measurements and not only the involvement of managers, but more importantly the involvement of the executives. Michael Hammer, the creator of re-engineering said the original failure of re-engineering was because he and the program did not require enough involvement of senior management. These points hit home for the Association of Productivity Specialists, because we train and certify productivity specialists who implement strategies to make companies more profitable.

At Whirlpool, the results of Six Sigma were mixed at best. “You’d have to get out an electron microscope” to see any real impact, a financial analyst for Prudential told Fortune magazine.

In practice, many of these fads are just plain stupid. But, managers try them because they fear competitors will gain advantage from a fad that actually works. They also try the fads because they are looking for a magic wand, a panacea, anything to help them. They are in fact grasping at straws.

Through this trial and error, we at APS have found there is a “fad” which everyone ultimately returns to – and that is “the basics.” These basics include the proper implementation of any productivity improvement project, making sure the top leaders are fully involved and that productivity gains are measured precisely. This follows in-depth analysis of production and administrative processes. This is true not only for manufacturers, but also for a wide range of industries including health care and finance.

As the Harvard Business Review put it, superior performance demands four primary management practices: strategy, execution, culture and structure; along with any two of four secondary practices – talent, leadership, innovation and mergers & partnerships.

Check out the links below illustrating all these points.

What fads have worked – or failed – for your company? Tell us about them. We want to hear from you.

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